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The Banner of the Bull 





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£ per pigliare i suoi nemici aJ vischio 
Fischid soavenunte, e per ridurli 
Nella sua tana, questo basalischio. 

Decennau, I. Macchiavelu 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2007 with funding from 

IVIicrosoft Corporation 


I. The Urbinian ' 

II. The Perugiav ^7 

III. The Venetian *^9 








IN that shrewd chapter of his upon a prince's choice 
of ministers — of which I shall presently have 
more to say — Messer Niccolo Macchiavelli dis- 
covers three degrees in the intelligence of mankind. 
To the first belong those who understand things for 
themselves by virtue of their own natural endow- 
ments; to the second those who have at least the wit 
to discern what others understand; and to the third 
those who neither understand things for themselves 
nor yet through the demonstrations which others 
afford them. The first are rare and excellent, since 
they are the inventive and generative class; the 
second are of merit, since if not actually productive, 
they are at least reproductive; the third, being neither 
one nor the other, but mere parasites who prey for 
their existence — and often profitably — upon the 
other two, are entirely worthless. 

There is yet a fourth class which the learned and 
subtle Florentine appears to have overlooked, a class 
which combines in itself the attributes of those other 
three. In this class I would place the famous Cor- 
vinus Trismegistus, who was the very oddest com- 


pound of inventiveness and stupidity, of duplicity 
and simplicity, of deceit and credulity, of guile and 
innocence, of ingenuity and ingenuousness, as you 
shall judge. 

To begin with, Messer Corvinus Trismegistus had 
mastered — as his very name implies — all the se- 
crets of Nature, of medicine, and of magic; so that 
the fame of him had gone out over the face of Italy 
like a ripple over water. 

He knew, for instance, that the oil of scorpions 
captured in sunshine during the period of Sol in 
Scorpio — a most essential condition this — was an 
infallible cure for the plague. He knew that to correct 
an enlargement of the spleen, the certain way was to 
take the spleen of a goat, apply it for four-and-twenty 
hours to the affected part, and thereafter expose it to 
the sun; in a measure as the goat's spleen should 
desiccate and wither, in such measure should the 
patient's spleen be reduced and restored to health. 
He knew that the ashes of a wolf's skin never failed as 
a remedy for baldness, and that to arrest bleeding at 
the nose nothing could rival an infusion from the bark 
of an olive-tree, provided the bark were taken from a 
young tree in the case of a young patient, and from an 
old tree in the case of an old patient. He knew that 
serpents stewed in wine, and afterwards eaten, would 
make sound and whole a leper, by conferring upon 
him the serpent's faculty of changing its skin. 

Deeply, too, was he versed in poisons and enchant- 
ments, and he made no secret — so frank and open 
was his nature — of his power to conjure spirits and, 
at need, to restore the dead to life. He had discov- 
ered an elixir vitae that preserved him still young 


and vigorous at the prodigious age of two thousand 
years, which he claimed to have attained; and another 
elixir, called Acqua Celeste — a very complex and 
subtle distillation this — that would reduce an old 
man's age by fifty years, and restore to him his lost 

All this and much more was known to Corvinus the 
Thrice-Mage, although certain folk of Sadducaic 
mind have sought to show that the sum of his knowl- 
edge concerned the extent to which he could abuse 
the credulity of his contemporaries and render them 
his dupes. Similarly it was alleged — although his 
adherents set it down to the spite and envy that the 
great must for ever be provoking in the mean — that 
his real name was just Pietro Corvo, a name he got 
from his mother, who kept a wineshop in Forli, and 
who could not herself with any degree of precision 
have named his father. And these deriders added 
that his having lived two thousand years was an idle 
vaunt, since there were still many alive who remem- 
bered to have seen him as an ill-kempt, dirty urchin 
wallowing in the kennels of his native town. 

Be all that as it may, there is no denying that he 
had achieved a great and well-deserved renown, and 
that he waxed rich in his mean dwelling in Urbino — 
that Itala Atene, the cradle of Italian art and learn- 
ing. And to wax rich is, after all, considered by many 
to be the one outward sign of inward grace, the one 
indubitable proof of worth. To them, at least, it fol- 
lows that Messer Corvinus was worthy. 

This house of his stood in a narrow street behind 
the Oratory of San Giovanni, a street of crazy build- 
ings that leaned across to each other until, had they 


been carried a little higher, they must have met in a 
Gothic arch, to exclude the slender strip of sky which, 
as it was, remained visible. 

It was a quarter of the town admirably suited to a 
man of the magician's studious habits. The greater 
streets of Urbino might tremble under the tramp of 
armed multitudes in those days when the Lord 
Cesare Borgia, Duke of Valentinois and Romagna, 
was master of the city, and the peaceful, scholarly 
Duke Guidobaldo a fugitive outcast. Down that 
narrow, ill-paved gap of sordid dwellings came no 
disturbers of the peace. So that Corvinus Trisme- 
gistus was left to pursue his studies unmolested, to 
crush his powders, and distil his marvellous elixirs. 

Thither to seek his help and his advice came folk 
from every quarter of Italy. Thither in the first hour 
of a fair June night, about a fortnight after Cesare 
Borgia's occupation of Urbino, came, attended by 
two grooms, the Lady Bianca de' Fioravanti. This 
Lady Bianca was the daughter of that famous Fiora- 
vanti who was Lord of San Leo, the only fortress in 
Guidobaldo's territory which, emboldened by its al- 
most impregnable position, still held out in defiance 
of the irresistible Valentinois. 

With much had Heaven blessed Madonna Bianca. 
Wealth was hers and youth, and a great name; 
culture and a beauty that has been the subject of 
some songs. And yet, with all these gifts, there was 
still something that she lacked — something without 
which all else was vain; something that brought her 
by night, a little fearfully, to the grim house of Messer 
Corvinus as a suppliant. To attract the less attention 
she came on foot and masked, and with no more at- 


tendance than just that of her two grooms. As they 
entered the narrow street, she bade one of these ex- 
tinguish the torch he carried. Thereafter, in the dark, 
they had come, almost groping, stumbling on the 
rough kidney stones, to the magician's door. 

" Go knock, Taddeo," she bade one of her servants. 

And on her words there happened the first of those 
miracles by which Madonna Bianca was to be con- 
vinced beyond all doubting of the supernatural qual- 
ity of the powers that Messer Corvinus wielded. 

Even as the servant took his first step towards 
the door, this opened suddenly, apparently of itself, 
and in the passage appeared a stately, white-robed 
Nubian bearing a lanthorn. This he now raised, so 
that its yellow shafts showered their light upon 
Madonna and her followers. There was, of course, no 
miracle in that. The miracle lay in another appari- 
tion. In the porch itself, as if materialized suddenly 
out of the circumambient gloom, stood a tall, cloaked 
figure, black from head to foot, the face itself con- 
cealed under a black vizor. This figure bowed, and 
waved Madonna onward into the house. 

She drew back in fear; for, having come to a place 
of wonders, expecting wonders, she accounted it but 
natural that wonders she should find, and it never 
entered her mind to suppose that here was but an- 
other who sought Corvinus, one who had arrived 
ahead of her, and in response to whose earlier knock 
it was that the door had opened, just a courteous 
gentleman who stood now deferring to her sex and 
very obvious importance. 

. Devoutly she crossed herself, and observing that 
the act did not cause this black famulus — as she 


supposed him — to dissolve and vanish, she reflected 
that at least his origin could not be daemoniac, took 
courage and went in, for all that her knees shook 
under her as she passed him. 

The supposed famulus followed close upon her 
heels, the grooms came last, together and something 
cowed, though they were men she had chosen for the 
stoutness of their courage. The gloom, the uncanny 
gentleman in black, the grinning Nubian, all teeth 
and eyeballs, affected them unpleasantly. 

The Nubian closed the door and barred it, the 
metal ringing shrilly as it fell. Then he faced about to 
ask them formally what and whom they sought. It 
was the lady who answered, unmasking as she spoke. 

"I am Bianca de' Fioravanti, and I seek the very 
learned Messer Corvinus Trismegistus." 

The Nubian bowed silently, bade her follow, and 
moved down the long stone passage, his lanthorn 
swinging as he went, and flinging its yellow disc of 
light to and fro upon the grimy walls. Thus they 
came to a stout oaken door studded with great nails 
of polished steel, and by this into a bare anteroom. 
There were dried rushes on the floor, a wooden bench 
was set against the wall, and upon a massive, four- 
legged table stood an oil-lamp, whose ruddy, quiver- 
ing flame, ending in a pennon of black smoke, shed a 
little light and a deal of smell. 

Their guide waved a brown hand towards the 

"Your lackeys may await your excellency here," 
said he. 

She nodded, and briefly gave her order to the 
grooms. They obeyed her, though with visible re- 


lucrance. Then the Nubian opened a second door, at 
the chamber's farther end. He drew aside a heavy 
curtain, with a startHng clash of metal rings, and dis- 
closed what seemed at first no more than a black gap. 

"The dread Corvinus Trismegistus bids you enter,'* 
he announced. 

For all the stoutness of her spirit the Lady Bianca 
now drew back. But as her eyes remained fixed upon 
the gap, she presently saw the gloom in part dispelled, 
and dimly she began to perceive some of the furnish- 
ings of that inner room. She took courage, bethought 
her of the great boon she sought at the magician's 
hands, and so crossed the dread threshold and passed 
into that mysterious chamber. 

After her, in close attendance, ever silent, came the 
gentleman of the mask. Believing him to be of the 
household of the mage, and his attendance a neces- 
sary condition, she made no demur to it; whilst the 
Nubian, on the other hand, supposing him, from his 
mask and the richness of his cloak, to be her com- 
panion, made no attempt to check his ingress. 

Thus, together, these two passed into the dim twi- 
light of the room. The curtains rasped together again 
behind them, and the door clanged sepulchrally. 

Madonna peered about her, her breath shortened, 
her heart beating unduly. A line of radiance along 
the ceiling, mysterious of source, very faintly revealed 
her surroundings to her: three or four chairs, capa- 
cious and fantastically carved, a table of plain wood 
against the wall immediately before her, crowded 
with strange vessels of glass and of metal that 
gleamed as they were smitten by rays of the faint 
light. No window showed. From ceiling to floor the 


chamber was hung with black draperies; it was cold 
and silent as the tomb, and of the magician there was 
no sign. 

The eeriness of the place increased her awe, tram- 
melled her reason, and loosed her imagination. She 
sat down to await the advent of the dread Corvinus. 
And then the second miracle took place. Chancing to 
look round in quest of that black famulus who had 
materialized to escort her, she discovered, to her 
infinite amazement, that he had vanished. As mys- 
teriously as he had first taken shape in the porch be- 
fore her eyes, had he now dissolved again and melted 
away into the all-encompassing gloom. 

She caught her breath at this, and then, as if some- 
thing had still been needed to scatter what remained 
of her wits, a great pillar of fire leapt suddenly into 
being in mid-chamber, momentarily to blind her and 
to wring from her a cry of fear. As suddenly it van- 
ished, leaving a stench of sulphur in the air; and then 
a voice, deep, booming, and immensely calm, rang in 
her ears. 

"Fear not, Bianca de' Fioravanti. I am here. 
What do you seek of me?" 

The poor, overwrought lady looked before her in 
the direction of the voice, and witnessed the third 

Gradually before her eyes, where there had been 
impenetrable gloom — where, indeed, it had seemed 
to her that the chamber ended in a wall — she saw a 
man, an entire scene, gradually assume shape and 
being as she watched. Nor did it occur to her that it 
might be her eyesight's slow recovery from the blind- 
ing flash of light that conveyed to her this impression 


of gradual materialization. Soon it was complete — 
in focus, as it were, and quite distinct. 

She beheld a small table or pulpit upon which stood 
a gigantic open tome, its leaves yellow with a great 
age, its colossal silver clasps gleaming in the light 
from the three beaks of a tall-stemmed bronze lamp 
of ancient Greek design, in which some aromatic oil 
was being burned. At the lamp's foot a human skull 
grinned horribly. To the right of the table stood a 
tripod supporting a brazier in which a mass of char- 
coal was glowing ruddily. At the table itself, in a 
high-backed chair, sat a man in a scarlet gown, his 
head covered by a hat like an inverted saucepan. His 
face was lean and gaunt, the nose and cheek-bones 
very prominent; his forehead was high and narrow, 
his red beard bifurcate, and his eyes, which were 
turned full upon his visitor, reflecting the cunningly 
set light, gleamed with an uncanny penetration. 

Behind him, in the background, stood crucible and 
alembic, and above these an array of shelves laden 
with phials, coffers, and retorts. But of all this she 
had the most fleeting and subconscious of impres- 
sions. All attention of which she was capable was 
focussed upon the man himself. She was, too, as one 
in a dream, so bewildered had her senses grown by ail 
that she had witnessed. 

"Speak, Madonna," the magician calmly urged 
her. " I am here to do your will." 

It was encouraging, and would have been still more 
encouraging had she but held some explanation of the 
extraordinary manner of his advent. Still overawed, 
she spoke at last, her voice unsteady. 

" I need your help," said she. ** I need it very sorely." 


" It is yours. Madonna, to the entire extent of my 
vast science." 

"You — you have great learning?" she half-ques- 
tioned, half-affirmed. 

"The limitless ocean," he answered modestly, "is 
neither so wide nor so deep as my knowledge. What 
is your need?" 

She was mastering herself now; and if she faltered 
still and hesitated it was because the thing she craved 
was not such as a maid may boldly speak of. She 
approached her subject gradually. 

"You possess the secret of great medicines," said 
she, "of elixirs that will do their work not only upon 
the body, but at need upon the very spirit?" 

"Madonna," he answered soberly, "I can arrest 
the decay of age, or compel the departed spirit of the 
dead to return and restore the body's life. And since 
it is Nature's law that the greater must include the 
less, let that reply suffice you." 

"But can you — " She paused. Then, impelled by 
her need, her last fear forgotten now that she was 
well embarked upon the business, she rose and aj>- 
proached him. " Can you command love ? " she asked, 
and gulped. "Can you compel the cold to grow im- 
passioned, the indifferent to be filled with longings? 
Can you — can you do thisE" 

He pondered her at some length. 

"Is this your need?" quoth he, and there was 
wonder in his voice. "Yours or another's?" 

"It is my need," she answered low. "My own." 

He sat back, and further considered the pale 
beauty of her, the low brow, the black, lustrous tresses 
in their golden net, the splendid eyes, the alluring 


mouth, the noble height and shape. "Magic I have 
to do your will at need," he said slowly; "but surely 
no such magic as is Nature's own endowment of you. 
Can he resist the sorcery of those lips and eyes — 
this man for whose subjection you desire my aid?" 

"Alas! He thinks not of such things. His mind is set 
on war and armaments. His only mistress is ambition." 

"His name," quoth the sage imperiously. "What 
is his name — his name and his condition?" 

She lowered her glance. A faint flush tinged her 
cheeks. She hesitated, taken by a fluttering panic. 
Yet she dared not deny him the knowledge he de- 
manded, lest, vexed by her refusal, he should with- 
hold his aid. 

"His name," she faltered at length, "is Lorenzo 
Castrocaro — a gentleman of Urbino, a condottiero 
who serves under the banner of the Duke of Valen- 

"A condottiero blind to beauty, bhnd to such 
warm loveliness as yours. Madonna?" cried Cor- 
vinus. "So anomalous a being, such a lusus naturce 
will require great medicine." 

"Opportunity has served me none too well," she 
explained, almost in self-defence. "Indeed, circum- 
stance is all against us. My father is the castellan of 
San Leo, devoted to Duke Guidobaldo, wherefore it 
is natural that we should see but little of one who 
serves under the banner of the foe. And so I fear that 
he may go his ways unless I have that which will 
bring him to me in despite of all." 

Corvinus considered the matter silently awhile, 
then sighed. " I see great difficulties to be overcome," 
said that wily mage. 


"But you can help me to overcome them?" 

His gleaming eyes considered her. 

"It will be costly," he said. 

"What's that to me? Do you think I'll count the 
cost in such a matter?" 

The wizard drew back, frowned, and wrapped him- 
self in a great dignity. 

"Understand me," said he with some asperity. 
"This is no shop where things are bought and sold. 
My knowledge and my magic are at the service of all 
humanity. These I do not sell. I bestow them freely 
and without fee upon all who need them. But if I 
give so much, so very much, it cannot be expected 
that I should give more. The drugs I have assembled 
from all corners of the earth are often of great price. 
That price it is yours to bear, since the medicine is for 
your service." 

"You have such medicine, then!" she cried, her 
hands clasping in sudden increase of hopefulness. 

He nodded his assent. 

"Love philtres are common things enough, and 
easy of preparation in the main. Any rustic hag who 
deals in witchcraft and preys on fools can brew one." 
The contempt of his tone was withering. " But for 
your affair, where great obstacles must be sur- 
mounted, or ever the affinities can be made to re- 
spond, a drug of unusual power is needed. Such a 
drug I have — though little of it, for in all the world 
there is none more difficult to obtain. Its chief com- 
ponent is an extract from the brain of a rare bird — 
avis rarissima — of Africa." 

With feverish fingers she plucked a heavy purse 
from her girdle and splashed it upon the table. It fell 


against the grinning skull, and thus, cheek by jowl 
with each other, lay Life's two masters — Death and 

"Fifty ducats!" she panted in her excitement. 
*'Will that suffice?" 

"Perhaps," said he, entirely disdainful. "Should 
it fall something short, I will myself add what may be 
lacking." And with contemptuous fingers, eloquent 
of his scorn of mere profit, he pushed the purse aside, 
a thing of no account in this transaction. 

She began to protest that more should be forth- 
coming. But he nobly overbore her protestations. He 
rose, revealing the broad, black girdle that clasped his 
scarlet robe about his waist, all figured with the signs 
of the zodiac wrought in gold. He stepped to the 
shelves, and took from one of them a bronze coffer of 
some size. With this he returned to the table, set it 
down, opened it, and drew forth a tiny phial — a 
slender little tube of glass that was plugged and 

It contained no more than a thread of deep amber 
fluid — a dozen drops at most. He held it up so that 
it gleamed golden in the light. 

"This," he said, "is my elixirium aureum, my 
golden elixir, a rare and very subtle potion, sufficient 
for your need." Abruptly he proffered it to her. 

With a little cry of gratitude and joy she held out 
avid hands to take the phial. But as her fingers were 
about to close upon it, he snatched it back, and raised 
a hand impressively to restrain her. 

"Attend to me," he bade her, his glittering eye re- 
garding her intensely. "To this golden elixir you 
shall add two drops of your own blood, neither more 


nor less; then contrive that Messer Lorenzo drink it 
in his wine. But all must be done while the moon is 
waxing; and, in a measure, as the moon continues to 
grow, so will his passion mount and abide in him. 
And before that same moon shall have begun to wane 
again this Lorenzo Castrocaro will come to you, 
though the whole world lie between you, and he will 
be your utter and absolute slave. The present is a 
propitious time. Go, and be you happy." 

She took the phial, which he now reUnquished, and 
broke into thanks. 

But imperiously, by a wave of the hand and a for- 
bidding look, he stemmed her gratitude. He smote a 
little gong that stood by. 

There was the sound of an opening door. The 
curtains parted with a clash, and the white-robed 
Nubian appeared salaaming on the threshold, waiting 
to reconduct her. 

Madonna Bianca bowed to the great magician, and 
departed overawed by the majesty of his demeanour. 
She had passed out, and still the Nubian waited on 
the threshold — waited for the man he had admitted 
with her. But Corvinus, knowing naught of his 
slave's motive for lingering, bade him harshly begone; 
whereupon the curtains were drawn together again, 
and the door was closed. 

Left alone, the magician flung off the great mantle 
of overawing dignity, descended from the lofty in- 
difference to gain, natural enough in one who is 
master of the ages, and became humanly interested 
in the purse which Madonna Bianca had left him. 
Drawing wide the mouth of it, he emptied the golden 
contents on to the vast page of his book of magic. He 


spread the glittering mass, and fingered it affection- 
ately, chuckling in his red beard. And then, quite 
suddenly, his chuckle was echoed by a laugh, short, 
abrupt, contemptuous, and sinister. 

With a startled gasp Corvinus looked up, his hands 
spreading to cover and protect the gold, his eyes 
dilating with a sudden fear, a fear that swelled at 
what he saw. Before him, in mid-chamber, surged a 
tall figure all in black — black cloak, black cap, and 
black face, out of which two gleaming eyes considered 

Trembling in every fibre, white of cheek, his mouth 
and eyes agape, a prey to a terror greater far than 
any it had ever been his lot to inspire in others, the 
wizard stared at the dread phantom, and assumed — 
not unnaturally it must be confessed — that here was 
Satan come to claim his own at last. 

There fell a pause. Corvinus attempted to speak, 
to challenge the apparition. But courage failed him; 
terror struck him dumb. 

Presently the figure advanced, silent-footed, men- 
acing; and the wizard's knees were loosened under 
him. He sank gibbering into his high-backed chair, 
and waited for death with hell to follow. At least, you 
see, he knew what he deserved. 

The apparition halted at last, before the table, 
within arm's length of Corvinus, and a voice came to 
break the awful spell, a voice infinitely mocking yet 
unquestionably, reassuringly human. 

"Greetings, Thrice-Mage ! " it said. 

It took Corvinus some moments to realize that his 
visitor was mortal, after all, and some further mo- 
ments to recover some semblance of self-possession. 


An incipient chagrin mingling with the remains of his 
fears, he spoke at last. 

"Who art thou?" he cried, the voice,'' which he 
would fain have rendered bold, high-pitched and 

The cloak opened, displaying a graceful, well-knit 
figure in sable velvet that was wrought with golden 
arabesques. From a girdle studded with great fiery 
rubies hung a long and heavy dagger, whose hilt and 
scabbard were of richly chiselled gold. On the backs 
of the black velvet gloves diamonds hung and 
sparkled like drops of water, to complete the sombre 
splendour of the man's apparel. One of the hands was 
raised to pluck away the vizor and disclose the youth- 
ful, aquiline, and very noble countenance of Cesare 
Borgia, Duke of Valentinois and Romagna. 

Corvinus recognized him on the instant, and recog- 
nizing him was far from sure that things would have 
been worse had his visitor been the Devil, as he had 
at first supposed. "My lord!" he cried, profoundly 
amazed, profoundly uneasy. And, thinking aloud in 
his consternation, he added the question, foolish in a 
master of all secrets: "How came you in?" 

" I, too, know something of magic," said the tawny- 
headed young duke, and there was mockery in his 
voice and in the smile he bent upon the wizard. 

He did not think it necessary to explain that all the 
magic he had employed had been to enter as if in 
attendance upon Madonna Bianca de' Fioravanti, 
and then to slip silently behind the black arras with 
which, to serve his purposes of deception, Messer 
Corvinus hung his walls. 

But the magician was not duped. Who makes the 


image does not worship it. The truth — the precise 
truth — of magic was known undoubtedly to Cor- 
vinus, and it therefore follows that he could not for a 
moment suppose that the means by which the Duke 
had gained admittance had been other than perfectly 
natural ones. Anon the Nubian should be keenly 
questioned, and if necessary as keenly whipped. 
Meanwhile, the Duke himself must claim attention, 
and Corvinus — knowing himself a rogue — was far 
from easy. 

But if he was not easy at least he was master of an 
inexhaustible store of impudence, and upon this he 
made now a heavy draught. To cover his momentary 
discomfiture, he smiled now as inscrutably as the 
Duke. Quickly he thrust the gold back into the 
purse, never heeding a coin that fell and rolled away 
along the floor. He tossed that purse aside, and, 
retaining his seat what time his highness remained 
standing, he combed his long, bifurcate beard. 

" Betwixt your magic and mine. Magnificent, there 
is some difi^erence," he said, with sly suggestion. 

"I should not be here else," replied the Duke; 
and abruptly he proceeded to the matter that had 
brought him. "It is said you have found an elixir 
that restores the dead to life." 

"It is rightly said, my lord," replied the wizard 
with assurance. He was becoming master of himself 

"You have tested it?" quoth Cesare. 

"In Cyprus, three years ago, I restored life to a 
man who had been dead two days. He is still living, 
and will testify." 

"Your word suffices me," said the Duke; and the 


irony was so sly that Corvinus was left wondering 
whether irony there had been. "At need, no doubt, 
you would make proof of it upon yourself?" 

Corvinus turned cold from head to foot, yet an- 
swered boldly of very necessity: 

"At need, I would." 

Valentinois sighed as one who is content, and Cor- 
vinus took heart again. 

"You have this elixir at hand?" 

"Enough to restore life to one man — just that and 
no more. It is a rare and very precious liquor, and 
very costly, as you may perceive. Magnificent." 

"Derived, no doubt, from the brain of some rare 
bird of Africa?" the Duke mocked him. 

By not so much as a flicker of the eyelid did Cor- 
vinus acknowledge the hit. 

"Not so, Magnificent," he replied imperturbably. 
"It is derived from — " 

"No matter!" said the Duke. "Let me have it!" 

The magician rose, turned to his shelves, and 
sought there awhile. Presently he came back with a 
phial containing a blood-red liquid. 

"It is here," he said, and he held the slender vessel 
to the light, so that it glowed like a ruby. 

"Force apart the teeth of the dead man, and pour 
this draught down his throat. Within an hour he will 
revive, provided the body has first been warmed 
before a fire." 

Valentinois took the phial slowly in his gloved 
fingers. He considered it, his countenance very 

"It cannot fail to act?" he questioned. 

"It cannot fail. Magnificent," replied the mage. 


"No matter how the man may have died?" 

"No matter how, provided that no vital organ 
shall have been destroyed." 

"It can conquer death by poison?" 

"It will dissolve and dissipate the poison, no mat- 
ter what its nature, as vinegar will melt a pearl." 

"Excellent!" said the Duke, and he smiled his cold, 
inscrutable smile. "And now another matter, Thrice- 
Mage." He thoughtfully fingered his tawny beard. 
"There is a rumour afoot in Italy, spread, no doubt, 
by yourself to further the thieving charlatan's trade 
you drive, that the Sultan Djem was poisoned by 
the Holy Father, and that the poison — a poison so 
subtle and miraculous that it lay inert in the Turk for 
a month before it slew him — was supplied to His 
Holiness by you." 

The Duke paused as if for a reply, and Corvinus 
shivered again in fear, so coldly sinister had been the 

"That is not true. Magnificent. I have had no 
dealings with the Holy Father, and I have supplied 
him with no poisons. I know not how Messer Djem 
may have died, nor have I ever said I did." 

"How, then, comes this story current, and your 
name in it?" 

Corvinus hastened to explain. Explanations were a 
merchandise with which he was well stocked. 

"It may be thus. Of such a poison I possess the 
secret, and some there have been who have sought 
it from me. Hence, no doubt, knowing that I have 
it and conceiving that it was used, the vulgar have 
drawn conclusions, as the vulgar will, unwarrant- 


Cesare smiled. 

" 'Tis very subtle, Trismegistus." And he nodded 
gravely. "And you say that you have such a poison? 
What, pray, may be its nature?" 

"That, Magnificent, is secret," was the answer. 

"I care not. I desire to know, and I have asked 

There was no heat in the rejoinder. It was quite 
cold — deadly cold. But it had more power to com- 
pel than any anger. Corvinus fenced no more; he 
made haste to answer. 

"It consists chiefly of the juice of catapuce and the 
powdered yolk of an egg, but its preparation is not 

"You have it at hand?" 

"Here, Magnificent," replied the mage. 

And from the same bronze coflFer whence he had 
taken the love-philtre — the golden elixir — he drew 
now a tiny cedar box, opened it, and placed it before 
the Duke. It contained a fine yellow powder. 

"One drachm of that will kill thirty days after it 
has been administered, two drachms in half the time." 

Cesare sniffed it and eyed the mage sardonically. 

"I desire to make experiment," said he. "How 
much is here?" 

"Two drachms. Highness." 

The Duke held out the box to Corvinus. 

"Swallow it," he bade him calmly. 

The mage drew back in an alarm that almost 
argued faith in his own statement. "My lord!" he 
cried, aghast. 

" Swallow it," Cesare repeated, without raising his 


Corvinus blinked and gulped. 

"Would you have me die, my lord?" 

"Die? Do you, then, confess yourself mortal, 
Thrice-Mage — you, the great Corvinus Trismegis- 
tus, whose knowledge is wide and deep as the lim- 
itless ocean, you who are so little sensible to the ills 
and decay of the flesh that already you have lived 
two thousand years? Is the potency of this powder 
such that it can slay even the immortals?" 

And now, at last, Corvinus began to apprehend the 
real scope of Cesare's visit. It was true that he had 
set it about that the Sultan Djem had been poisoned, 
and that he had boasted that he himself had supplied 
the Borgias with the fabulous secret drug that at such 
a distance of time had killed the Grand Turk's 
brother; and, as a consequence, he had made great 
profit by the sale of what he alleged was the same 
poison — a subtle veneno a termine, as he called it — 
so convenient for wives who were anxious for a change 
of husbands, so serviceable to husbands grown weary 
of their wives. 

He understood at last that Cesare, informed of the 
defamatory lie that had procured the mage such 
profit, had sought him out to punish him. And it is a 
fact that Corvinus himself, despite his considerable 
knowledge, actually believed in the drug's fabulous 
power to slay at such a distance of time. He had 
found the recipe in an old manuscript volume, with 
many another kindred prescription, and he believed 
in it with all the blind credulity of the Cinquecento in 
such matters, with, in fact, all the credulity of those 
who came to seek his magician's aid. 

The Duke's sinister mockery, the extraordinary 


sense which he ever conveyed of his power to compel, 
of the futility of attempting to resist his commands, 
filled Corvinus with an abject dread. 

"Highness . . . alas! ... I fear it may be as you 
say!" he cried. 

" But even so, of what are you afraid? Come, man, 
you are trifling! Have you not said of this elixir that 
it will restore the dead to life? I pledge you my word 
that I shall see that it is administered to you when 
you are dead. Come, then; swallow me this powder, 
and see that you die of it precisely a fortnight hence, 
or, by my soul's salvation, I'll have you hanged for an 
impostor without giving you the benefit afterwards 
of your own dose of resurrection." 

"My lord — my lord!" groaned the unfortunate 

"Now, understand me," said the Duke. "If this 
powder acts as you say it will, and kills you at the 
appointed time, your own elixir shall be given to you 
to bring you back again to Hfe. But if it kills you 
sooner, you may remain dead; and if it kills you not 
at all — why, then I'll hang you, and publish the 
truth of the whole matter, that men may know the 
falsehood of the manner of Djem's death upon which 
you have been trading! Refuse me, and — " 

The Duke's gesture was significant. 

Corvinus looked into the young man's beautiful, 
relentless eyes, and saw that to hope to turn him from 
his purpose were worse than idle. As soon, then, risk 
the powder as accept the certainty of the rope, with 
perhaps a foretaste of hell upon the rack. Besides, 
some chemical skill he had, and a timely emetic might 
save him — that and flight. Which shcwvs the precise 
extent of his faith in his elixir of life. 


With trembling hands he took the powder. 

"See that you spill none of it," Cesare admon- 
ished him, "or the strangler shall valet you, Thrice- 

"My lord, my lord!" quavered the wretched war- 
lock, his eyes bulging. "Mercy! I..." 

"The poison, or the strangler," said the Duke. 

In despair, and yet heartening himself by the 
thought of the emetic, Corvinus bore the edge of the 
box to his ashen lips, and emptied into his mouth the 
faintly musty contents, Cesare watching him closely 
the while. When it was done, the appalled magician 
sank limply to his chair. 

The Duke laughed softly, replaced his vizor, and, 
flinging his ample cloak about him, strode towards 
the curtains that masked the door. 

"Sleep easily, Thrice-Mage," he said, with infinite 
mockery. "I shall not fail you." 

Watching him depart, so confidently, so utterly 
fearless and unconcerned, Corvinus was assailed by 
rage and a fierce temptation to extinguish the light 
and try conclusions with Cesare in the dark, sum- 
moning the Nubian to his aid. It was with that 
thought in his mind that he smote the gong. But, 
whilst the note of it still rang upon the air, he aban- 
doned a notion so desperate. It would not save him 
if he were poisoned, whilst if he allowed Cesare to 
depart unmolested he would be the sooner gone, and 
the sooner Cesare were gone the sooner would Cor- 
vinus be free to administer to himself the emetic that 
was now his only hope. 

The curtains flashed back, and the Nubian ap- 
peared. On the threshold Cesare paused, and over 


his shoulder, ever mocking, he flung the warlock his 

"Fare you well, Thrice-Mage!" he said; and, with 
a laugh, passed out. 

Corvinus dashed wildly to his shelves in quest of 
that emetic, fiercely cursing the Duke of Valentinois 
and all the Borgia brood. 


AS the Nubian opened the door of the 'mage*s 
J^\^ house to give egress to the Duke, he felt him- 
self suddenly caught about the neck in the crook of 
a steely, strangling arm, whilst the shrill note of a 
whistle sounded almost in his very ear. 

Instantly the hitherto silent and deserted street 
awoke to life. From out of doorways darted swift- 
footed men in answer to the Duke's summons. Into 
the hands of two of these he delivered the writhing 
Nubian; to the others he issued a brief command. 

"In!" he said, waving a hand down the passage. 
"In, and take him." And upon that he stepped out 
into the street and so departed. 

Later that evening word was brought him at the 
palace of how Messer Corvinus had been taken in the 
very act of mixing a drug. 

"The antidote, no doubt," said Cesare to the 
officer who bore him the information. " You would be 
just in time to save my experiment from being frus- 
trated. A wicked, faithless, inconsiderate fellow, this 
Corvinus. Let him be kept in close confinement, 
guarded by men whom you can trust, imtil you hear 
from me again." 

Thereafter Cesare summoned a council of his 
officers — Corella the Venetian, Naldo the Forlivese, 
Ramiro de Lorqua, his lieutenant-general of Ro- 
magna, Delia Vblpe the one-eyed, and Lorenzo 

A tall, clean-limbed young man was this last, very 


proud in his bearing, very splendid in his apparel, 
with golden hair and handsome, dreamy eyes of a blue 
as dark as sapphires. Cesare held him in great regard, 
knowing him valiant, resourceful, and ambitious. 
To-night he regarded him with a fresh interest, in 
view of what at the magician's he had overheard. 

The Duke waved his officers to their seats about 
his council-board, and craved of Delia Volpe, who 
was in charge of the siege operations, news of the 
fortress of San Leo. 

The veteran's swarthy face was gloomy. His single 
eye — he had lost the other in the Duke's service — 
avoided his master's penetrating glance. He sighed 

"We make no progress," he confessed, "nor can 
make any. San Leo is not a place to be carried by 
assault, as your magnificence well knows. It stands 
there upon its mountain-top like a monument upon a 
plinth, approached by a bridle-path offering no cover. 
And, for all that it is reported to be held by scarcely 
more than a score of men, a thousand cannot take it. 
There is no foothold at the summit for more than a 
dozen men at a time, and as for using guns against it, 
it were easier to mount a park of artillery upon a 

"Yet until San Leo is ours we are not fully masters 
of Urbino," said the Duke. "We cannot leave the 
place in the hands of Fioravanti." 

"We shall have to starve him out, then," said Delia 

"And that would take a year at least," put in 
Corella, who had been gathering information. "They 
have great store of wheat and other victuals and they 


are watered by a well in the inner bailie of the fortress. 
With few mouths to feed, as they have, they can hold 
us in check for ever." 

"There is a rumour to-day," said Delia Volpe, 
" that the Lord Fioravanti is sick, and that it is feared 
he may not live." 

"Not a doubt but Venice will say I poisoned him," 
said Cesare, sneering. "Still, even if he dies, it will be 
no gain to us. There is his castellan, Tolentino, to 
take his place; and Tolentino is the more obstinate of 
the two. We must consider some way to reduce them. 
Meanwhile, Taddeo, be vigilant, and hold the path 
against all." 

Delia Volpe inclined his head. 

"I have taken all my measures for that," he said. 

And now young Castrocaro stirred in his chair, 
leaning forward across the table. 

" By your leave," said he, " those measures may not 

Delia Volpe frowned, rolled his single eye, which 
was preternaturally fierce, and scowled contemptu- 
ously upon this young cockerel whose pretence it 
seemed to be to teach that war-battered old captain 
the art of beleaguering. 

"There is another way to reach San Leo," Castro- 
caro explained; and drew upon himself the attention 
of all, particularly the Duke, in whose fine eyes there 
gleamed now an eager interest very unusual in him. 

Castrocaro met with a confident smile this sudden 
and general alertness he had provoked. 

"It is not," he explained, "such a way by which a 
company can go, but sufficient to enable a bold man 
who is acquainted with it to bear messages, and, at 


need, even victuals into the fortress. Therefore, it 
will be necessary that Messer della Volpe surround 
the entire base of the rock if he would be sure that 
none shall slip through his lines." 

"You are certain of what you tell us?" quoth the 
Duke sharply. 

"Certain!" echoed Castrocaro; and he smiled. 
"The way of which I speak lies mainly to the south of 
the rock. It is perilous even for a goat, yet it is prac- 
ticable with care to one who knows it. Myself, as a 
boy, have made the ascent more often than I should 
have cared to tell my mother. In quest of an eagle's 
nest I have more than once reached the little plateau 
that thrusts out under the very wall of the fortress on 
the southern side. Thence, to enter the castle, all that 
would be needed would be a rope and a grappling- 
hook; for the wall is extremely low just there — not 
more than twelve feet high." 

The Duke pondered the young soldier with very 
thoughtful eyes, in silence, for some moments. 

"I shall further consider this," he said at length. 
"Meanwhile, I thank you for the information. You 
have heard, Della Volpe. You will profit by what 
Castrocaro tells us, encircling the base entirely with 
your troops." 

Della Volpe bowed, and upon that the council 

Next morning Cesare Borgia summoned Castro- 
caro to his presence. He received the young condot- 
tiero in the noble library of the palace, a spacious 
chamber, its lofty ceiling gloriously frescoed by Man- 
tegna, its walls hung with costly tapestries and cloth 
of gold, its shelves stocked with a priceless and impos- 


ing array of volumes, all in manuscript; for, although 
the new German invention of the printing-press was 
already at work, by not a single vulgar production of 
that machine would Duke Guidobaldo have contami- 
nated his cherished and marvellous collection. 

At work at a table spread with papers sat the black- 
gowned figure of Agabito Gherardi, the Duke's secre- 

"You have the acquaintance, have you not," quoth 
Cesare, "of Madonna Bianca, the daughter of Fiora- 
vanti of San Leo?" 

The young man, taken by surprise, flushed slightly 
despite his habitual self-possession, and his blue eyes, 
avoiding the Duke's, considered the summer sky and 
the palace gardens through one of the windows that 
stood open to the broad marble balcony. 

"I have that honour in some slight degree," he an- 
swered; and Cesare considered from his air and tone 
that the magician's golden elixir was scarcely needed 
here as urgently as Madonna Bianca opined, and that 
what still was wanting to enchant him the sorcery of 
her beauty might accomplish unaided, as the magi- 
cian had supposed. 

He smiled gently. 

"You may improve that acquaintance, if you so 

The young man threw back his head very haughtily. 

"I do not understand your potency," said he. 

" You have my leave," the Duke explained, " to con- 
vey in person to Madonna Bianca the news we have 
received that her father lies sick in San Leo." 

Still the young man held himself loftily upon the 
defensive, as a young lover will. 


"To what end this. Highness?" he inquired, his 
tone still haughty. 

"Why, to what end but a Christian one, and" — 
the Duke slightly lowered his voice to a confidential 
tone, and smiled inscrutably — "a kindly purpose 
towards yourself. Still, if you disdain the latter, for 
the former any other messenger will serve." 

Ill at ease in his self-consciousness, a little mysti- 
fied, yet well content at heart, the condottiero bowed. 

"I thank your highness," he said. "Have I your 
leave to go?" 

The Duke nodded. 

"You will wait upon me on your return. I may 
have other commands for you," he said, and so dis- 
missed him. 

An hour later came Castrocaro back to the palace 
library in great haste and some excitement to seek the 
Duke again. 

"My lord," he cried, all in a trembling eagerness, 
" I have conveyed the message, and I am returned to 
crave a boon. Madonna Bianca besought of me in her 
affliction a written order to pass the lines of Delia 
Volpe, that she might repair to her father." 

"And you?" cried the Duke sharply, his level 
brows drawn together by a sudden frown. 

The young captain's glance fell away. Obviously 
he was discouraged and abashed. 

" I answered that I had no power to grant such an 
order, but — but that I would seek it of your high- 
ness; that I knew you would not desire to hold a 
daughter from her father's side at such time." 

"You know a deal," said Cesare sourly, "and you 
promise rashly. Precipitancy in making promises has 


never yet helped a man to greatness. Bear that in 

"But she was in such sore affliction!" cried Messer 
Lorenzo, protesting. 

"Aye!" said the Duke drily. "And she used you so 
kindly, eyed you so fondly, gave you such sweet wine 
to drink, that you had no strength to resist her soft 

Cesare,'*watching his condottiero closely, observed 
the flicker of the young man's eyelids at the mention 
of the wine, and was satisfied. But even more fully 
was he to have the assurance that he sought. 

"Have I been spied upon?" quoth Messer Lorenzo 

Cesare shrugged contemptuously, not deigning to 

" You have leave to go," he said in curt dismissal. 

But Messer Lorenzo was in a daring mood, and 
slow to obey. 

"And the authority for Madonna Bianca to join 
her father?" he asked, 

"There are good reasons why none should enter 
San Leo at present," was the cold reply. "Since you 
lay such store by it, I regret the necessity to deny you. 
But in time of war necessity is inexorable." 

Chagrined and downcast, the condottiero bowed 
and withdrew. Having promised, and finding himself 
now unable to fulfil the promise made to her over that 
cup of wine which she had brought him with her own 
fair hands, he dared not present himself to her again. 
Instead he dispatched a page to her with the unwel- 
come news of the Duke's refusal. 

Yet in this matter Cesare Borgia was oddly incon- 


sistent. For scarcely had Castrocaro left his presence 
than he turned to his white-faced secretary. 

"Write me three Hnes to Delia Volpe," said he, 
"ordering that if Madonna Bianca de' Fioravanti 
should attempt to steal through his lines and gain San 
Leo, he is to offer her no hindrance." 

Agabito's round, pale countenance reflected his 
amazement at this order. But Cesare, surveying him, 
smiled inscrutably for all reply, and, from his knowl- 
edge of his master and that smile, Agabito perceived 
that Cesare was embarked upon one of those tortuous, 
subtle courses whose goal none could perceive until 
it had been reached. He bent to his task, and his 
pen scratched and spluttered briskly. Very soon a 
messenger bearing the order was on his way to Delia 
Volpe's camp. 

That very night Madonna Bianca considerately did 
what the Duke expected of her. She slipped past the 
Borgia sentinels in the dark, and she was in San Leo 
by morning, though in Urbino none knew of this 
but'Cesare, who had word of it privately from Delia 
Volpe. Her palace by the Zoccolanti remained opened 
as if inhabited by her, but to all who came to seek her 
it was said that she was in ill-health and kept her 
chamber. And amongst these was Lorenzo Castro- 
caro, who, upon being denied admittance on this plea, 
concluded that she was angry with him for having 
failed to do as he had promised, and thereafter grew 
oddly silent and morose. 

Two days after her flight came news of Fioravanti's 
death in the grim fortress he defended, and Castro- 
caro was dispatched by the Duke to Cesena on a mis- 
sion which might well have been entrusted to a less- 


important officer. It was ten days later when his 
immediate return was ordered, and, in view of the 
terms of that order, he went, upon reaching Urbino, 
all dust-laden as he was, into the Duke's presence 
with the dispatches that he bore. 

Valentinois sat in council at the time, and Delia 
Volpe from the lines under San Leo was in attendance. 

"You are very opportunely returned," was his 
greeting of Messer Lorenzo, and he thrust aside, as 
of no consequence, the dispatches which the latter 
brought. " We are met here to consider this resistance 
of San Leo, which is being conducted now by Tolen- 
tino with all the firmness that was Fioravanti's. We 
must make an end; and you, Messer Lorenzo, are the 
man to accomplish it." 

"I?" cried the young soldier. 

"Sit," Cesare bade him, and obediently Castrocaro 
took a chair at the table. "Listen. You are to under- 
stand that I am not commanding you to do this 
thing, for I command no valued officer of mine so 
greatly to imperil his life. I but show you what is our 
need — what might be done by one who has your 
knowledge and whose heart is stout enough to bid him 
take the risk which the thing entails." 

The condottiero nodded his understanding, his blue 
eyes set upon the Duke's calm face. 

"You told us here," Cesare continued, "of a peril- 
ous way into San Leo which is known to few, and to 
yourself amongst those few. You said that if a man 
were to gain the plateau on the southern side of the 
rock's summit he might, with a rope and a grappling- 
hook, effect an entrance. Now, if a man were to do 
this at dead of night, choosing his time wisely so as to 


take the sentry unawares, stab that sentry, and there- 
after reach the gates and loose the bars, the rest 
would be an easy task. Delia Volpe's troops would, 
meanwhile, have crept up by the bridle-path to await 
the signal, upon which they would pour forth against 
the unbarred gate, and so San Leo might be reduced 
at last with little loss of life." 

Messer Lorenzo considered for some moments, the 
Duke watching him. 

" It is shrewd," he said, approvingly. " It Is shrewd 
and easy, and likely to succeed, provided the man 
who goes is one who knows the rock and the fortress 

"Provided that, of course," said Cesare; and he 
looked steadily at the young man. 

Messer Lorenzo bore that look a moment with the 
self-possession that was natural to him. Then, trans- 
lating its quiet significance: 

"I will go," he said quietly, "and. Heaven helping 
me, I will succeed." 

"You have counted the cost of failure?" said 

"It needs no counting. It is plain enough. A rope 
and a beam from the castle wall, or a leap from the 
rock itself." 

"Then, since who gambles should know not only 
what he may chance to lose, but also the stake he 
stands to win," said the Duke, "let me say that if you 
succeed I'll give you the governorship of the fortress 
with a stipend of ten thousand ducats." 

Messer Lorenzo flushed in his agreeable surprise. 
His eyes sparkled and his tone rang with youth's 
ready confidence in its own powers. 


"I will not fail/* he promised. "When do I make 
the attempt?" 

"To-morrow night, since you have resolved. See 
that you rest betwixt this and then to fit you for the 
fatigue of such an enterprise. And so, sirs, let us hope 
that we have found at last a solution to this riddle of 
San Leo." 


You see, I hope, what Messer Castrocaro did not 
yet see, nor for that matter ever saw — knowing 
nothing of what had happened on the night when the 
Duke visited Messer Corvinus Trismegistus. You see 
in the Duke's choice of him for this enterprise an in- 
stance of that fine discrimination with which Cesare 
picked his instruments. 

MacchiavelH, who studied the Duke at close quar- 
ters, and who worshipped him as the very embodi- 
ment of all the virtues of princeship, was no doubt 
inspired by the Duke's unerring wisdom in the choice 
of ministers to devote to the subject a chapter of his 
"The Prince." 

"The first conjecture made of a prince and of his 
intellectual capacity," he writes, "should be based 
upon a consideration of the men by whom he sur- 
rounds himself, and when these are faithful to him, 
and sufficient for his occasions, he is to be accounted a 
wise prince, for having chosen them sufficient and 
kept them faithful." 

MacchiavelH writes thus no more than Cesare 
might, himself, have written had he theorized upon 
princeship instead of practising it. Indeed, it is upon 
Cesare Borgia's practices — as MacchiavelH half ad- 
mits in one place — that the Florentine founded his 
theories. So that it is hardly an over-statement to say 
that whilst MacchiaveHi wrote "The Prince," Cesare 
Borgia was its real author, since his were the concep- 
tions and actions that MacchiavelH converted into 
precepts. - 


You see him here selecting for this task one who, 
although the youngest among all his captains, was 
yet undoubtedly the most sufficient for his particular 
need. And observe the quality of his sufficiency. In a 
measure it was adventitious, depending upon Castro- 
caro's chance acquaintance with that back way up 
the rock of San Leo. But in a still greater measure 
it was the result of Cesare's clever manipulation of 

If that is not yet quite clear to you, it shall become 
abundantly so ere all is told. But do not fall into the 
error of supposing that anything that befell was the 
result of chance. From now onward all happens pre- 
cisely as Cesare had designed. He had discovered 
certain forces, and he had harnessed them to his 
needs, setting them upon a course by him predeter- 
mined and marked out. 

He realized that chance might disturb their career, 
and ffing them out of that course, but he did not 
depend upon chance to bear them to the goal at 
which he aimed them. 

On the afternoon of the following day, thoroughly 
rested and refreshed, Messer Lorenzo Castrocaro rode 
out of Urbino with a bodyguard of a half-dozen of his 
men-at-arms and took the road to Delia Volpe's camp 
under San Leo. He arrived there without mishap 
towards nightfall, and having supped with the com- 
mander of the beleaguerers in the latter's tent, he 
thereafter completed his preparations. Towards the 
third hour of night he set out alone upon his perilous 

To lessen the risk of being perceived by any 
watcher in the castle, he had dressed himself entirely 


in black, taking the precaution to put on under his 
doublet a shirt of mail, which whilst being dagger- 
proof, was yet so finely wrought that your two cupped 
hands might contain it. He was armed with sword 
and dagger, and bandolier-wise about his body, was 
coiled a rope, to which he had attached a strong, 
double-pronged grappling-hook very broad in the 
bend, all swathed in straw. This had been carefully 
and firmly adjusted upon his back, so that it should 
not hamper his movements. 

With Delia Volpe he had concerted that the latter, 
at the head of fifty men, should quietly approach the 
fortress by the bridle-path, and, having gained the 
summit, lie concealed until the gate should be opened 
by Castrocaro himself. Then they were instantly to 
spring forward, and so effect an entrance. 

It was a fine clear night of summer, and the moon 
rode in the heavens, rendering the landscape visible 
for miles. This was well for the earlier part of Messer 
Lorenzo's climb; and before midnight, by when he 
hoped to reach the summit, that moon would have 
set, and darkness would lend him cover. 

Alone, then, he set out, and made his way round to 
the southern side of the great precipitous hill on the 
crest of which, like the capital of a column, the bulk 
and towers of the fortress showed grey in the white 

At first the ascent was easy, and he was able to go 
forward swiftly; soon, however, the precipice grew 
more abrupt, the foothold became scantier, and in 
places failed almost entirely, so that his progress was 
retarded and for his life's sake he was compelled to 
move with infinite caution, husbanding his strength 


against the still more strenuous labour that lay before 

Hesitation or doubt he had none. It was a good 
ten years since last, in boyhood, he had scaled those 
heights; but boyhood's memories are tenacious, and 
he was as confident of his way as if he had trodden it 
but yesterday. Every little projection of that cliff, 
every fissure that afforded foothold, every gap to be 
overcome, he knew before he reached it. 

At the end of an hour he had not accomplished 
more than a third of the ascent, and the most difficult 
part of it was yet to come. He sat down upon a 
grassy ledge, unusually spacious, and there he rested 
him awhile and recovered breath. 

Thence he viewed the Emilian plain, revealed for 
miles in the moon's white light, the glittering, silvery 
spread of sea away in the distance to the east, the 
glimmering snow-capped peaks of the Apennines to 
westward. Above him towered the grey cliff, abrupt 
and sheer as the very walls of the fortress that 
crowned its summit, a climb that well might have 
appalled the hardiest mountaineer, that might, in- 
deed, have baffled even a goat. Surveying it with his 
calm blue eyes, Messer Lorenzo realized that the 
worst danger he had to face that night was the danger 
of this climb. By comparison, the rest — the scaling 
of the castle wall, the poniarding of a sentry or two, 
and the opening of the gate — were safe and simple 
matters. Here, however, a false step, a misgiving 
even, or a moment of giddiness, such as might well 
beset him, must plunge him down to instant death. 

He rose, inhaled the fragrance of the summer night, 
breathed a short prayer to his patron saint, the Holy 


Lawrence, and pushed on. Clinging with hands and 
feet and knees to the face of the cliff, he edged along a 
narrow strip of rock, for some few yards, to another 
ledge; there he paused to breathe again, thankful 
that so much was accomplished. 

Thereafter for a while the going was easier. A 
natural path, some three feet wide, wound upwards 
along the face of the precipice. At the end of this 
he was confronted by another gap, to be surmounted 
only by a leap. 

Fearing lest his sword should trip him, he un- 
buckled his belt, and cast the weapon from him. He 
did so with regret, but constrained to it by the reflec- 
tion that if he kept it he might never live to need it. 
Then he took a deep breath, seized his courage in 
both hands, and jumped across the black unfathom- 
able void at a stunted tree that thrust out from that 
sheer wall. With arms and legs he clutched like an 
ape at the frail plant, and had its hold given way 
under his weight, there would have been an end of 
him forthwith. It held, however, and clinging to it, 
he groped for foothold, found it, and went on. This 
brought him to a narrow fissure in the cliff. < Up this 
fissure he swarmed, supported by just the pressure 
of knees and forearms against the rock, and only at 
times finding a projection affording a safer grip for 
one or the other. 

Up, straight up, he went for nearly twenty feet, 
until at last he reached the fissure's summit; one of 
its walls permitted him to get astride it, and there he 
rested, bathed in sweat and winded by the stupendous 
exertions he had put forth. Seated thus, his breast 
close against the cliff, he looked sideways and down 


into the awful depths below him. He shuddered, and 
clung with his bruised hands to the rock, and it was 
some time before he could proceed upon the second 
half of his ascent, for by now he knew that he was a 
good midway. 

At last he resumed his climb, and by similar means, 
and surmounting similar and constant perils, he 
pushed on and ever upwards. 

One narrow escape he had. As he clung with both 
hands to that awful wall at a place where the foothold 
was but a few inches wide, a great brown body, with a 
shrieking whirr, dashed out of a crevice just above his 
head, and went cawing and circling in the void be- 
yond. So startled was he that he almost loosed his 
hold, and a cold sweat broke out upon his roughened 
skin as he recovered and knew the thing for what it 
was. And later, when, an hour or so before midnight, 
the moon went down and left him in utter darkness, 
fear at last assailed his stout spirit, and for a time 
he did not dare to move. Presently, however, as he 
grew accustomed to the gloom, his eyes were able to 
pierce it to an extent that restored his courage. The 
night, after all, was clear and starlit, and at close 
quarters objects were just visible; yet immense care 
was necessary lest he should now commit the irrepa- 
rable error of mistaking substance for shadow, or 
should misjudge his distances, as was so easy. 

At long length, towards midnight, utterly spent, 
with bleeding hands and rent garments, he found him- 
self on the roomy platform at the very foot of the 
castle's southern wall; and not for all the wealth of 
the world would he have consented to return by the 
way he had so miraculously ascended — for miracu- 


lous did he now account it that he should have 
reached his goal in safety. He flung himself down, 
full length, there at the foot of the wall, to rest awhile 
before attempting the escalade. And what time he 
rested, he whispered a prayer of thankfulness for his 
preservation so far, for a devout soul was this Messer 

He looked up at the twinkling stars, out at the 
distant sheen of the Adriatic, down at the clustering 
hamlets in the plain, so far below him, from which 
so painfully he had climbed. Immediately above his 
head he could hear the steady measured tread of the 
sentry, approaching, passing, and receding again, as 
the man patrolled the embattled parapet. Thrice did 
the fellow pass that way before Castrocaro stirred; 
and when at length he rose, as the steps were fading in 
the distance for the third time, he felt a certain pity 
for the soldier whose spirit he must inevitably liberate 
from its earthly prison-house that night. 

He uncoiled the rope from his body, stood back, 
and swung the grappling-hook a moment, taking aim, 
then hurled it upwards. It soared above the wall, 
and fell beyond, between two merlons, then thudded 
softly against the masonry, the straw in which he had 
the foresight to swathe it muffling the sound of the 

He pulled gently at the rope, hoping that the hooks 
would fasten upon some projection in the stone or 
lodge within some crevice. But neither happened. 
The hooks came to the summit of the wall, and top- 
pled back, falling at his feet. Again he repeated the 
operation, with a like result; but at the third 
attempt the hooks took hold. He swung his entire 


weight upon the rope to test the grip, and found that 
it held firmly. 

But now the sentry's return warned him that the 
moment was unpropitious. So he waited, intently 
listening, crouching at the wall's foot, until the man 
had passed, and his footsteps were once more receding 
in the distance. 

Then he began the ascent in sailor fashion, hauling 
himself up hand over hand, his feet against the ma- 
sonry to lighten the labour of his arms. Thus he came 
swiftly to the top of the wall, and knelt there, between 
two merlons, peering down into the black courtyard. 
All was silent. Save for the tramp of the sentry, who 
was now turning the northwestern angle of the ram- 
parts, as Messer Lorenzo rightly judged, no sound 
disturbed the stillness of the place. 

He loosed the hooks from the crevice in which they 
had fastened. He flung them wide, the rope with 
them, and sent them hurtling over the precipice, that 
there might be no evidence of the manner of his com- 
ing. Then he dropped softly down upon the parapet, 
exulting to realize that his journey was accomplished, 
and that he was within the fortress. 

His mission was all but ended. The rest was easy. 
Within a few moments the Borgia troops would be 
pouring into San Leo, and the soldiers of the garri- 
son, surprised in their beds, would make a very ready 
surrender. It no longer appeared even necessary to 
Messer Lorenzo to butcher that single sentry. If he 
but wisely chose his moment for the unbarring of the 
gates, the whole thing might be done without the 
man's suspicions being aroused until it was too late. 
Indeed, it was the safer course; for, after all, if he 


came to grapple with the soldier, there was always 
the chance that the fellow might cry out and give the 
alarm before Castrocaro could dispatch him. 

Resolved thus upon that score, he moved forward 
swiftly yet very cautiously, and gained a flight of 
stone steps that wound down into the inner bailie. 
This he descended, and so reached the quadrangle. 
Round this vast square he moved, keeping well 
within the shadows, until he came to the gateway 
opening upon a passage that ran past the guard-room 
on one side and the chapel on the other, into the outer 
bailie of the fortress. 

In this gateway he crouched, and waited until the 
sentry, who was coming round again, should have 
passed once more to the castle's northern side. No 
window overlooking the courtyard showed a single 
light; the place was wrapped in slumber. 

Messer Lorenzo waited calmly, his pulse quite 
regular. Should the door be locked, then he must re- 
turn, deal with the sentry, and make his way to the 
main gates by the battlements. But it was unlikely 
that such would be the case. 

High up, immediately before him upon the ram- 
parts, he saw the sentry, passing slowly, pike on 
shoulder, a black shadow dimly outlined against the 
blue-black, star-flecked dome of sky. He watched 
him as he passed on and round, all unsuspicious, and 
so vanished once more. Then, very softly, Messer 
Lorenzo tried the latch of that big door. It yielded 
silently to his pressure and a black tunnel gaped 
before him. He entered it, and very softly closed the 
door again on the inside. Then he paused, reflecting 
that were he to go straight forward and pass out into 


the northern court he must risk detection by the 
sentry, who was now on the northern battlements. 
Therefore he must wait until the fellow should come 
round again. 

Interminable seemed his wait this time, and once 
he fancied that he heard a man's voice coming from 
the guard-room on his right. The sound momentarily 
quickened his pulses that had been steady hitherto. 
But hearing no more, he concluded that his senses, 
strained by so much dodging, waiting, and listening, 
had deceived him. 

At last he caught the sound of the sentry's step 
approaching again along the parapet. Satisfied that 
he had waited long enough he made shift to grope his 
way through the black darkness of that passage. And 
then, even as he turned, his heart almost stood still. 
Upon the chapel door, at the height of some three 
feet, there was a tiny oval splash of light, along the 
ground at the same spot a yellow gleam long and 
narrow as a sword-blade. Instantly he understood. 
The guard-room, whose windows looked upon the 
northern court, was still tenanted, and what he beheld 
was the light that shone through the keyhole and 
under the door. 

A moment he paused, considering. Then he per- 
ceived that, having come so far, he must go on. To 
retreat and reopen the door would be fraught with 
the greater risk, whilst to linger in the passage would 
be but to increase the already imminent danger of 
discovery. His only chance of winning through lay in 
going forward at once, taking care to make no sound 
that should reach those within. Thus, no doubt, all 
would be well. With extremest caution, then, he 


stepped forward on tiptoe, his hands upon the wall on 
the chapel side to guide and steady him. 

Not more than three or four steps had he taken 
when, quite suddenly, an oath rang out in a deep 
male voice, followed by the laughter of several men. 
With that there was a scraping of chairs, and heavy 
steps came tramping towards the door. 

With this door Messer Lorenzo was now level, and, 
being startled, he made his one mistake. Had he 
taken the risk of speeding forward swiftly, he might 
even now have won safely to the outer bailie. But he 
hung there hesitating, again considering retreat even, 
his every sinew taut. And that pause was his ruin. 
In a moment he realized it, saw that he was trapped, 
that retreat was now utterly hopeless, and that to go 
forward was no better. Therefore with set teeth, and 
angry misery in his soul to reflect that he had won so 
far and at such peril only to fail upon the very thresh- 
old of success, he stood at bay, to meet what he no 
longer could avoid. 

The door was pulled open from within, and a flood 
of light poured out into that black place, revealing 
Messer Lorenzo, white of face, with staring eyes, one 
hand instinctively upon his poniard-hilt, poised there 
as if for a spring. 

Thus did the foremost of the five men who issued 
behold him, and at sight of him all checked abruptly, 
staring. This foremost one, a big, heavily built fellow 
all clad in leather, black-browed and bearded, seemed 
in some slight measure the superior of those other 
four. All five were very obviously soldiers. 

He fell back a step in sheer amazement, startled 
even by the sight of Messer Lorenzo. Then, recover- 


ing, he set his arms akimbo, planted wide his feet, 
and looked our gentleman over with an eye of deep- 
est interest. 

"Now who the devil may you be?" he demanded. 

Messer Lorenzo's wits were ever very ready, and 
in that moment he had a flash of inspiration. He 
stepped forward easily in answer to that challenge, 
and so came more fully into the light. 

" I am glad to see there is some one alive and awake 
in San Leo," he said; and he seemed to sneer, as one 
who had the right to utter a reproof. 

On the faces of those five men amazement grew and 
spread. Looking beyond them into the room, which 
was lighted by torches set in iron sconces in the walls, 
Messer Lorenzo beheld the explanation of the silence 
they had kept. There was a table on which remained 
spread a pack of greasy cards. They had been at play. 

"Body of God," he went on, "you keep a fine 
watch here! The Borgia soldiery may be at your very 
gates. I myself can effect an entrance, and no man to 
hinder or challenge me, or so much as give the alarm ! 
By the Host! were you men of mine, I should find 
work for you in the kitchen, and hope that you'd give 
a better account of yourselves as scullions than you 
do as soldiers." 

"Now, who the devil may you be, I say?" again 
demanded the black-browed warrior, scowling more 
truculently than before. 

"And how the devil come you here?" cried an- 
other, a slender, loose-lipped fellow, with a wart on 
his nose, who pushed forward to survey the intruder 
at closer quarters. 

Castrocaro on the instant became very haughty. 


"Take me to your captain — to Messer Tolen- 
tino," he demanded. "He shall learn what manner 
of watch you keep. You dogs, the place might be 
burnt about your ears while you sit there cheating 
one another at cards, and set a fellow who appears to 
be both deaf and blind to pace your walls." 

The note of cool authority in his voice produced its 
effect. They were entirely duped by it. That a man 
should so address them whose right to do so was 
not entirely beyond question seemed to them — as it 
might indeed to any — altogether incredible. 

"Messer Tolentino is abed," said the big fellow in 
a surly voice. 

They did not like the laugh with which Messer 
Castrocaro received that information. It had an 
unpleasant ring. 

"I nothing doubt it from the manner of your 
watch," he sneered. "Well, then, up and rouse him 
for me!" 

"But who is he, after all, Bernardo?" insisted the 
loose-lipped stripling of their leader; and the others 
grunted their approval of a question that at least pos- 
sessed the virtue of being timely. 

"Aye," quoth black-browed Bernardo. "You have 
not told us who you are?" His tone lay between 
truculence and sulky deference. 

"I am an envoy from the Lord Guidobaldo, your 
duke," was the ready and unfaltering answer; and 
the young condottiero wondered in his heart whither 
all this would lead him, and what chance of saving 
himself might offer yet. 

Their deference was obviously increased, as was 
their interest in him. 


"But how came you in?" insisted the one who 
already had posed that question. 

Messer Lorenzo waved the question and questioner 
impatiently aside. 

"What matters that?" quoth he. "Enough that 
I am here. Are we to trifle away the night in silly 
questions? Have I not told you that the Borgia 
troops may at this moment be at your very gates?" 

"By Bacchus, they may stay there," laughed an- 
other. "Thcj gates of San Leo are strong enough, 
my master; and should the Borgia rabble venture to 
knock, we shall know how to answer them." 

But even as the fellow was speaking, Bernardo 
fetched a Ian thorn from the room, and shouted to 
them to follow him. They went down the passage 
towards the door leading to the outer bailie. They 
crossed the courtyard together, pestering the sup- 
posed envoy with questions, which he answered 
curtly and ungraciously, showing them by his every 
word and gesture that it was not his habit to herd 
with such as they. 

Thus they came to the door of the maschio tower, 
where Messer Tolentino had his dwelling; and, what 
time they paused there, Castrocaro sent a fond glance 
in the direction of the great gates, beyond which 
Delia Volpe and his men were waiting. He was so 
near them that to reach and unbar those gates would 
be an instant's work; but the way to rid himself of 
those five dogs of war was altogether beyond his devis- 
ing. And now the sentry on the walls above peered 
down and hailed them to know whom they had with 
them, and the young condottiero prayed that thus 
Delia Volpe, who must be intently on the watch with- 


out, might have warning that he was taken. Yet at 
the same time he knew full well that, even so, Delia 
Volpe would be powerless to assist him. He had but 
his own wits upon which he could depend and he 
realized how desperate was his situation. 

Up a winding staircase, the walls and ceilings very 
rudely frescoed, they led Messer Lorenzo to the apart- 
ments of Tolentino, the castellan who had been ruler 
of San Leo since the death, ten days ago, of the Lord 

As he went the young condottiero took heart once 
more. So far all had gone well. He had played his 
part shrewdly, and his demeanour had so successfully 
imposed upon the men that no shadow of suspicion 
did they entertain. Could he but succeed in simi- 
larly befooling their captain, it might well be that 
he should be assigned some chamber from which he 
anon might slip forth still to do the thing he was 
come to do. 

As he went he prepared the tale he was to tell, and 
he based it upon his knowledge that Fioravanti's re- 
sistance of Cesare Borgia had been almost in opposi- 
tion to the wishes of Duke Guidobaldo — that mild 
and gentle scholar who had desired all fortresses to 
make surrender, since no ultimate gain could lie in 
resistance and naught ensue but a useless sacrifice of 

The difficulty for Messer Lorenzo lay in the fact 
that Tolentino would desire to see credentials; and 
he had none to offer. 

He was kept waiting in an antechamber what time 
the big Bernardo went to rouse the castellan and to 
inform that grumbling captain that an envoy from 


Duke Guidobaldo had stolen into the castle and was 
seeking him. No more than just that did Bernardo 
tell Tolentino. But it was enough. 

The castellan roused himself at once, with a wealth 
of oaths, first incoherent, then horribly coherent; he 
shook his great night-capped head, thrust out a pair 
of long hairy legs from the coverlet, and sat up on 
the bed's edge to receive this envoy, whom he bade 
Bernardo to admit. 

Messer Lorenzo, very uneasy in his heart, but very 
haughty and confident in his bearing, entered and 
gave the captain a lofty salutation. 

"You are from Duke Guidobaldo?** growled 
Messer Tolentino. 

"I am," said Castrocaro. "And had I been from 
Cesare Borgia, with a score of men at my heels, I 
could by now have been master of San Leo, so zealous 
are your watchers.'* 

It was shrewdly conceived, because it seemed to 
state an obvious truth that was well calculated to 
disarm suspicion. But the tone he took, though well 
enough with men-at-arms, was a mighty dangerous 
one to take with a castellan of such importance and 
such a fierce, ungovernable temper as was notoriously 
Messer Tolentino's. It flung that gentleman very 
naturally into a rage, and might well have earned the 
speaker a broken head upon the instant. This Messer 
Lorenzo knew and risked; for he also knew that it 
must earn him confidence, both for the reason already 
given and also because it must be inferred that only a 
person very sure of himself would dare to voice such a 
^ . Tolentino stared at him out of fierce, blood- 


injected eyes, too much taken aback to find an an- 
swer for a moment. He was a tall, handsome, big- 
nosed man, with black hair, an olive, shaven face, and 
a long, square chin. He stared on awhile, and then 

"Blood of God!" he roared. "Here is a cockerel 
with a very noisy cackle! We'll mend that for you ere 
you leave us," he promised viciously. "Who are 

"An envoy from Duke Guidobaldo, as you have 
been informed. As for the rest — the cockerel and 
the cackle — we will discuss it at some other time." 

The castellan heaved himself up and sought to 
strike a pose of dignity, no easy matter for a man in 
his shirt and crowned by a night-cap. 

"You pert lap-dog!" said he, between anger and 
amazement. He breathed gustily, words failing him, 
and then grew calmer. "What is your name?" 

"Lorenzo Snello," answered Castrocaro, who had 
been prepared for the question, and he added sternly: 
"I like it better than the one you have just bestowed 
upon me." 

"Are you come hither to tell me what you like?" 
bellowed the castellan. "Look you, young sir, I am 
the master here, and here my will is law. I can flog 
you, flay you, or hang you, and give account of it to 
none. Bear you that in mind, and — " 

"Oh, peace!" cried Messer Lorenzo, in his turn, 
waving a contemptuous hand, and dominating the 
other by his very tone and manner. "Whatever I 
may have come for, I have not come to listen to your 
vapourings! Have I climbed from the plain, risked 
my life to get through the Borgia lines, and my neck 


a score of times in the ascent, to stand here and have 
you bellow at me of what you imagine you can do? 
What you cannot do, I have seen for myself." 

"And what may that be?" quoth Tolentino, now 
wickedly gentle. 

"You cannot guard a castle, and you cannot dis- 
criminate between a lackey and one who is your peer 
and perhaps something more." 

The castellan sat down again and rubbed his chin. 
Here was a very hot fellow, and, like all bullies, 
Messer Tolentino found that hot fellows put him out 
of countenance. 

In the background, behind Messer Lorenzo, stood 
Tolentino's men in line, silent but avid witnesses of 
his discomfiture. The castellan perceived that at all 
costs he must save his face. 

"You'll need a weighty message to justify this in- 
solence and to save you from a whipping," said he 

"I'll need no weightier a message than the one I 
bear," was the sharp answer. "The Duke shall hear 
of these indignities to which you are subjecting one he 
loves, and who has run great peril in his service." 

His dignity, his air of injury was now overwhelm- 
ing. "And mark you, sir, it is not the way to treat an 
envoy, this. Were my duty to the Duke less than it is, 
or my message of less moment, I should depart as I 
have come. But he shall hear of the reception I have 
had, rest assured of that." 

Tolentino shuffled, ill at ease now. 

"Sir," he cried, protesting, "I swear the fault is 
yours. Who, pray, are you, to visit me with your 
reproofs? If I have failed in courtesy it was you pro- 


voiced me. Am I to bear the gibes of every popinjay 
who thinks he can discharge my duties better than 
can I? Enough, sir!" He waved a great hand, grow- 
ing dignified in his turn. " DeHver the message that 
you bear." And he held out that massive hand of his 
in expectation of a letter. 

But Messer Lorenzo's pretence was, of necessity, 
that he bore his message by word of mouth. 

"I am bidden by my lord to enjoin you to make 
surrender with the honours of war, which shall be 
conceded you by the Duke of Valentinois," said he; 
and seeing the surprise, doubt, and suspicion that 
instantly began to spread upon Tolentino's face for 
all to read, he launched himself into explanations. 
"Cesare Borgia has made terms with Duke Guido- 
baldo, and has promised him certain compensations 
if all the fortresses of his dominions make surrender 
without more ado. These terms my lord has been ad- 
vised to accept, since by refusing them nothing can 
he hope to gain, whilst he may lose all. Perceiving 
this, and satisfied that by prolonging its resistance 
San Leo can only be postponing its ultimately inevi- 
table surrender and entailing by that postponement 
the loss of much valuable life, Duke Guidobaldo has 
sent me to bid you in his name capitulate forthwith." 

It had a specious ring. It was precisely such a 
message as the humanitarian duke might well have 
sent, and the profit to accrue to himself from the sur- 
render he enjoined seemed also a likely enough con- 
tingency. Yet the shrewd Tolentino had his doubts, 
doubts which might never have assailed another. 

Wrinkles increased about his fierce black eyes as he 
bent them now upon the messenger. 


"You will have letters of this tenor from my lord?" 
he said. 

" I have none," replied Messer Lorenzo, dissembling 
his uneasiness. 

"Now, by Bacchus, that is odd!" 

"Nay, sir, consider," said the young man too 
hastily, "the danger of my carrying such letters. 
Should they be found upon me by the Borgia troops, 

He checked, somewhat awkwardly, perceiving his 
mistake. Tolentino smacked his thigh with his open 
palm, and the room rang with the sound of it. His 
face grew red. He sprang up. 

"Sir, sir," said he, with a certain grimness, "we 
must understand each other better. You say that you 
bring me certain orders to act upon a certain matter 
that has been concerted between Valentinois and my 
lord, and you talk of danger to yourself in bearing 
such orders in a letter. Be patient with me if I do not 
understand." Tolentino's accents were unmistakably 
sardonic. "So desirable is it from the point of view 
of Valentinois that such commands should reach me, 
that he could not have failed to pass you unmolested 
through his troops. Can you explain where I am 
wrong in these conclusions?" 

There but remained for Messer Lorenzo to put 
upon the matter the best face possible. A gap was 
yawning at his feet. He saw it all too plainly. He was 
lost, it seemed. 

"That explanation my lord, no doubt, will furnish 
you, should you seek it from him. I hold it not. It 
was not given me, nor had I the presumption to 
request it." He spoke calmly and proudly, for all 


that his heart-beats had quickened, and in his last 
words there was a certain veiled reproof of the other's 
attitude. "When," he continued, "I said that it 
would have been dangerous to have given me letters, 
I but put forward, to answer you, the explanation 
which occurred to me at the moment. I had not 
earlier considered the matter. I now see that I was 
wrong in my assumption." 

Messer Tolentino considered him very searchingly. 
Throughout his speech, indeed, the castellan's eyes 
had never left his face. Messer Lorenzo's words all 
but convinced Tolentino that the man was lying. 
Yet his calm and easy assurance, his proud demean- 
our, left the captain still a lingering doubt. 

"At least you'll bear some sign by which I am to 
know that you are indeed my lord's envoy?" said he. 

"I bear none. I was dispatched in haste. The 
Duke, it seems, did not reckon upon such a message 
as this being doubted." 

"Did he not?" quoth Tolentino, and his note was 
sardonic. Suddenly he asked another question. 
"How came you to enter the fortress?" 

"I climbed up from the plain on the southern side, 
where the rock is accounted inaccessible." And, see- 
ing the look of surprise that overspread the captain's 
face, " I am of these parts," he explained. " In boy- 
hood I have frequently essayed the climb. It was for 
this reason that Duke Guidobaldo chose me." 

"And when you had gained the wall, did you bid 
the sentry lower you a rope?" 

" I did not. I had a rope of my own, and grappling- 

"Why this, when you are a messenger from Guido- 


baldo?" The castellan turned sharply to his men. 
"Where did you find him?" he inquired. 

It was Bernardo who made haste to answer that 
they had found him lurking in the passage outside 
the guard-room as they were coming out. 

Tolentino laughed with fierce relish, and swore 
copiously and humorously. 

"So-ho!" he crowed. "You had passed the sentry 
unperceived, and you were well within the fortress ere 
suddenly you were discovered, when, behold! you 
become a messenger of Guidobaldo's bearing orders to 
me to surrender the fortress, and you take this high 
tone about our indifferent watch to cover the sly 
manner of your entrance. Oh-o! 'Twas shrewdly 
thought of, but it shall not avail you — though it be 
a pity to wring the neck of so spirited a cockerel." 
And he laughed again. 

"You are a fool," said Castrocaro with finality, 
"and you reason like a fool." 

"Do I so? Now, mark me. You said that it was 
because you knew a secret way into this castle that 
Guidobaldo chose you for his messenger. Consider 
now the folly of that statement. You might yourself 
have construed that Guidobaldo's wish was that you 
should come hither secretly, though yourself you 
have admitted the obvious error of such an assump- 
tion. But to tell me that an envoy from the Duke 
bidding us surrender to Cesare Borgia, and so do the 
will of the latter, should need to come here by secret 
ways at the risk of his neck — " Tolentino shrugged 
and laughed in the white face of Messer Lorenzo. 
"Which of us is the fool in this, sir?" he questioned, 
leering. Then, with an abrupt change of manner, he 


waved to his men. "Seize and search him," he com- 

In a moment they had him down upon the floor, 
and they were stripping him of his garments. They 
made a very thorough search, but it yielded nothing. 

"No matter," said Tolentino as he got into bed 
again. "We have more than enough against him 
already. Make him safe for the night.r He shall go 
down the cliff's face again in the morning, and I 
swear he shall go down faster than ever he came up." 

And Messer Tolentino rolled over, and settled 
down comfortably to go to sleep again. 


10CKED in the guard-house — since a man who 
J was to die so soon was not worth the trouble of 
consigning to a dungeon, Messer Lorenzo Castrocaro 
spent, as you may conceive, a somewhat troubled 
night. He was too young and too full of life and the 
zest and warmth of it to be indifferent about quit- 
ting it, to look with apathy upon death. He had seen 
death — and a deal of it — in the past two years of 
his martial career. But it had been the death of 
others, and never until now had it seemed to him that 
death was a thing that very much concerned himself. 
Even when he had imagined that he realized the 
dangers before him in this enterprise of San Leo, he 
had felt a certain confidence that it was not for him 
to die. He was, in fact, in that phase of youth and 
vigour when a man seems to himself immortal. And 
even now that he lay on the wooden bench in the 
guard-room, in the dark, he could hardly conceive 
that the end of him was really at hand. The catas- 
trophe had overtaken him so suddenly, so very casu- 
ally; and surely death was too great a business to be 
heralded so quietly. 

He sighed wearily, and sought to find a more com- 
fortable position on his pitilessly hard couch. He 
thought of many things — of his past life, of early 
boyhood, of his mother, of his companions in arms, 
and of martial feats accomplished. He saw himself 
hacking a way through the living barrier that blocked 
the breach in the wall of Forli, or riding with Valen- 


tinois in the mighty charge that routed the Colonna 
under Capua; and he had a singularly vivid vision of 
the dead men he had beheld on those occasions and 
how they had looked in death. So would he look to- 
morrow, his reason told him. But still his imagination 
refused to picture it. 

Then his thoughts shifted to Madonna Bianca de' 
Fioravanti, whom he would never see again. For 
months he had experienced an odd tenderness for that 
lady, of a sweetly melancholy order, and in secret he 
had committed some atrocious verses in her honour. 

It had been no great affair when all was said; there 
had been other and more ardent loves in his short life; 
yet Madonna Bianca had evoked in him a tenderer 
regard, a holier feeling than any other woman that he 
had known. Indeed, the contrast was as sharp as that 
which lies between sacred and profane love. Perhaps 
it was because she was so unattainable, so distant, 
so immeasurably above him, the daughter of a great 
lord, the representative to-day of a great house, 
whilst he was but a condottiero, an adventurer who 
had for patrimony no more than his wits and his 
sword. He sighed. It would have been sweet to have 
seen her again before dying — to have poured out the 
story of his love as a swan pours out its death-song. 
Yet, after all, it did not greatly matter. 

You see that his examination of conscience in that 
supreme hour had litde to do with the making of his 

He wondered would she hear of the end he had 
made; and whether, hearing, she would pity him a 
little; whether, indeed, she would do so much as re- 
member him. It was odd he reflected that he should 


come to meet his end in the very castle that had been 
her father's; yet he was glad that it was not her 
father's hand that measured out to him this death 
that he must die to-morrow. 

Physically exhausted as he was by the exertions of 
his climb, he fell at last into a fitful slumber; and 
when next he awakened it was to find the morning 
sunlight pouring through the tall windows of his 

He had been aroused by the grating of a key in 
the lock, and as he sat up, stiff and sore, on his hard 
couch, the door opened, and to him entered Bernardo, 
followed by six soldiers, all in their harness. 

"A good day to you," said Bernardo civilly, but a 
trifle thoughtlessly, considering what the day had in 
store for Messer Lorenzo. 

The young man smiled as he swung his feet to the 

"A better day to you," said he; and thus earned, by 
his pleasantry and his debonair manner, the esteem of 
the gruff soldier. 

It had come to Messer Lorenzo that, since die he 
must, the thing would be best done jocosely. Lamen- 
tations would not avail him. Let him, then, be blithe. 
Perhaps, after all, death were not so fearful a business 
as priests represented it; and as for that framing hell 
that lies agape for young men who have drunk of the 
lusty cup of their youth there would be shrift for him 
before he went. 

He rose, and ran his fingers through his long, fair 
hair, which had become tousled. Then he looked at 
his hands, grimy and bruised from yesternight's ad- 
venture, and begged Bernardo to fetch him water. 


Bernardo's brows went up in surprise. The labour 
of washing did not seem a reasonable thing to him 
under the circumstances. Outside in the courtyard a 
drum began to beat a call. Bernardo thrust out a 
dubious lip. 

"Messer Tolentino is awaiting you/' he said. 

"I know," replied Castrocaro. "You would not 
have me present myself thus before him. It were to 
show a lack of proper respect for the hangman." 

Bernardo shrugged, and gave an order to one of his 
men. The fellow set his pike in a corner and went out, 
to return presently with an iron basin full of water. 
This he placed upon the table. Messer Lorenzo 
thanked him pleasantly, removed his doublet and 
shirt, and stripped to the waist he proceeded to make 
the best toilet that he could as briefly as possible. 

Washed and refreshed, his garments dusted and 
their disarray repaired, he acknowledged himself 
ready. The men surrounded him at a word from 
Bernardo, and marched him out into the open where 
the impatient castellan awaited him. 

With a firm step, his head high, and his cheeks but 
little paler than their habit, Messer Lorenzo came 
into the spacious inner bailie of the castle. He 
glanced wistfully at the cobalt sky, and then con- 
sidered the line of soldiers drawn up in the courtyard, 
all in their harness of steel and leather, with the grey 
walls of the fortress for their background. Not more 
than thirty men in all did they number, and they 
composed the castle's entire garrison. 

A little in front of them the tall castellan was pac- 
ing slowly. He was all in black, in mourning for his 
late master, the Lord Fioravanti, and his hand rested 


easily upon the hilt of his sheathed sword, thrusting 
the weapon up behind. He halted at the approach of 
the doomed prisoner, and the men surrounding the 
latter fell away, leaving him face to face with Messer 

The castellan considered him sternly for a little 
while, and Messer Lorenzo bore the inspection well, 
his deep blue eyes returning the other's solemn 
glance intrepidly. 

At last the captain spoke: 

"I do not know what was your intent in penetrat- 
ing here last night, save that it was traitorous; that 
much the lies you told me have made plain, and for 
that you are to suffer death, as must any man taken 
as you had been." 

"For death I am prepared," said Messer Lorenzo 
coolly; " but I implore you to spare me the torture of 
a funeral oration before I go. My fortitude may not 
be equal to so much, particularly when you consider 
that I have had no breakfast." 

Toientino smiled sourly, considering him. 

"Very well," said he. And then: "You will not tell 
me who you are and what you sought here?" 

"I have told you already, but you choose to dis- 
credit what I say. What need, then, for further 
words? It were but to weary you and me. Let us get 
to the hanging, which, from the general look of you, is 
no doubt a matter that you understand better." 

"Ha!" said Toientino. 

But now quite suddenly, from the line of men there 
was one who, having heard question and answer, 
made bold to call out: 

"Sir captain, I can tell you who he is." 


The captain wheeled sharply upon the man-at- 
arms who had made the announcement. 

"He is Messer Lorenzo Castrocaro." 

"One of Valentinois's condottieri?" exclaimed 

"The same, sir captain," the man assured him; and 
Messer Lorenzo, looking, recognized one who had 
served under his own banner some months since. 

He shrugged indifferently at the captain's very 
evident satisfaction. 

"What odds?" he said. "One name will serve as 
well as another to die under." 

"And how," quoth the captain, "would you prefer 
to die? You shall have your choice." 

"Of old age, I think," said Messer Lorenzo airily, 
and heard the titter that responded to his sally. 

But Tolentino scowled, displeased. 

"I mean, sir, will you be hanged, or will you leap 
from the ledge to which you climbed last night?" 

"Why, that now is a very different matter. You 
circumscribe the choice. Appoint for me, I pray, the 
death that will afford you the greater diversion." 

Tolentino considered him, stroking his long chin, 
his brows wrinkled. He liked the fellow for his in- 
trepid daring in the face of death. But — he was 
Castellan of San Leo, and knew his duty. 

"Why," said he slowly at length, "we know that 
you can climb like an ape; let us see if you can fly like 
a bird. Take him up to the ramparts yonder." 

"Ah, but stay!" cried Messer Castrocaro, with 
suddenly startled thoughts of those sins of his youth 
and with a certain corollary hope. "Are you all 
pagans in San Leo? Is a Christian to be thrust across 


the black edge of death unshriven ? Am I to have no 
priest, then?" 

Tolentino frowned, as if impatient of this fresh 
motive for delay; then he signed shortly to Bernardo. 

"Go fetch the priest," said he; and thus dashed 
that faint, sly hope Messer Lorenzo had been har- 
bouring that the place might contain no priest, and 
that these men, being faithful children of Mother 
Church, would never dare to slay unshriven a man 
who asked for shrift. 

Bernardo went. He gained the chapel door on the 
very pronouncement of the **Ite, Missa est," just as 
the morning Mass was ended, and on the threshold, in 
his haste, he all but stumbled against a lady in black 
who was coming forth attended by two women. He 
drew aside and flattened himself against the wall, 
muttering words of apology. 

But the lady did not at once pass on. 

"Why all this haste to chapel?" quoth she, ac- 
counting it strangely unusual in one of Tolentino's 

"Messer Father Girolamo is required," said he, 
"There is a man about to die who must be shriven." 

"A man?" said she, with a show of tender solici- 
tude, conceiving that one of the all too slender garri- 
son had been wounded to the death. 

"Aye, a captain of Valentinois's — one Lorenzo 
Castrocaro — who came hither in the night. And," 
he added vaingloriously, "it was I, Madonna, who 
took him." 

But the Lady Bianca de' Fioravanti never heard 
his last words. She fell back a step, and rested, as if 
for support, against one of the diminutive pillars of 


the porch. Her face had become deathly white, her 
eyes stared dully at the soldier. 

"What . . . What is his name, did you say?" she 

" Lorenzo Castrocaro — a captain of Valentinois's," 
he repeated. 

"Lorenzo Castrocaro?" she said in her turn, but on 
her lips the name seemed another, so differently did 
she utter it. 

"Aye, Madonna," he replied. 

Suddenly she gripped his arm, so that she hurt him. 

"And he is wounded — to the death?" she cried 
with a sudden fierceness, as it seemed to him. 

"Nay; not wounded. He is to die, having been 
captured. That is all. Messer Tolentino will have 
him jump from the rock. You will have a good view 
from the battlements, Madonna. It is — " 

She released his arm, and fell back from him in 
horror, cutting short his praise of the entertainment 

"Take me to your captain," she commanded. 

He stared at her, bewildered. "And the priest?" 
he inquired. 

"Let that wait. Take me to your captain." 

The command was so imperious that he dared not 
disobey her. He bowed, muttering in his beard, and, 
turning, went up the passage again, and so out into 
the courtyard, the lady and her women following. 

Across the intervening space Madonna Bianca's 
eyes met the proud glance of Messer Lorenzo's, and 
saw the sudden abatement of that pride, saw the 
faint flush that stirred at sight of her in those pale 
cheeks. For to the young man this was a startling 


apparition, seeing that — as Cesare Borgia had been 
careful to provide — he had no knowledge or even 
suspicion of her presence in San Leo. 

A moment she paused, looked at him, her soul in 
her eyes; then she swept forward, past Bernardo, her 
women ever following her. Thus came she, very pale 
but very resolute of mien, to the captain of her fortress. 

Messer Tolentino bowed profoundly, uncovering, 
and at once explained the situation." 

"Here is a young adventurer. Madonna, whom we 
captured last night within these walls," said he. "He 
is a captain in the service of Cesare Borgia." 

She looked at the prisoner again standing rigid 
before her, and from the prisoner to her officer. 

"How came he here?" she asked, her voice curi- 
ously strained. 

"He climbed the rock on the southern side at the 
risk of his neck," said Tolentino. 

"And what sought he?" 

"*Tis what we cannot precisely ascertain," Tolen- 
tino admitted. "Nor will he tell us. When captured 
last night he pretended to be an envoy from Duke 
Guidobaldo, which plainly he was not. That was 
but a subterfuge to escape the consequences of his 

And the captain explained, with a pardonable 
parade of his own shrewdness, how he had at once 
perceived that had Messer Lorenzo been what he pre- 
tended, there would have been no need for him to 
have come to San Leo thus, in secret. 

"Nor need to risk his neck, as you have said, by 
climbing the southern side, had he been employed by 
Cesare Borgia," said the lady. 


"That is too hasty a conclusion, Madonna," Tolen- 
tino answered. "It is only on the southern side that 
it is possible to climb the wall; and along the summit 
itself there is no way round." 

"To what end, then, do you conceive that he 

"To what end? Why, to what end but to betray 
the castle into the hands of the Borgia troops?" cried 
Tolentino, a little out of patience at such a super- 
fluity of questions. 

"You have proof of that?" she asked him, a rising 
inflection in her voice. 

"To common sense no proof is needed of the ob- 
vious," said he sententiously, snorting a little as he 
spoke, out of his resentment of this feminine interfer- 
ence in men's afi^airs. "We are about to fling him 
back the way he came," he ended with a certain grim 

But Madonna Bianca paid little heed to his 

"Not until I am satisfied that his intentions were 
as you say," she replied; and her tone was every whit 
as firm as his, and was invested with a subtle re- 
minder that she was the mistress paramount of San 
Leo, and he no more than the castellan. 

Tolentino glowered and shrugged. 

"Oh, as you please, Madonna. Yet I would make 
bold to remind you that my ripe experience teaches 
me best how to deal with such a matter." 

The girl looked that war-worn veteran boldly in the 

" Knowledge, sir captain, is surely of more account 
than mere experience." 


His jaw fell. 

"You mean that you — that you have knowledge 
of why he came?" 

"It is possible," said she, and turned from the 
astonished captain to the still more astonished 

Daintily she stepped up to Messer Lorenzo, whose 
deep sapphire eyes glowed now as they regarded her, 
reflecting some of the amazement in which he had 
listened to her words. He had weighed them, seeking 
to resolve the riddle they contained, and — be it con- 
fessed at once — wondering how he might turn the 
matter to his profit in this present desperate pass. 

I fear you may discover here something of the vil- 
lain in Messer LxDrenzo. And I admit that he showed 
himself but little a hero of romance in that his first 
thought now was how he might turn to account the 
lady's interest in him. But if it was not exactly 
heroic, it was undeniably human, and if I have con- 
veyed to you any notion that Messer Castrocaro was 
anything more than quite ordinarily human, then my 
task has been ill-performed indeed. 

It was not so much his love of her as his love of 
himself, youth's natural love of life, that now showed 
him how he might induce her to open a door for his 
escape from the peril that encompassed him. And 
yet, lest you should come to think more ill of him than 
he deserves, you are to remember that he had raised 
his eyes to her long since, although accounting her 
far beyond his adventurer's reach. 

She looked at him in silence for a moment. Then, 
with a calm too complete to be other than assumed, 
she spoke. 


"Will you give me your arm to the battlements, 
Messer Lorenzo?" 

A scarlet flush leapt to his cheeks; he stepped for- 
ward briskly to her side. 

Tolentino would still have interposed. 

"Consider, Madonna," he began. 

But she waved him peremptorily aside; and, after 
all, she was the mistress in San Leo. 

Side by side the prisoner and the lady paramount 
moved away towards the staircase that led up to the 
embattled parapet. Tolentino growled his impa- 
tience, cursed himself for being a woman's lackey, 
dismissed his men in a rage, and sat down by the well 
in the centre of the courtyard to await the end of that 
precious interview. 

Leaning on the embattled wall, looking out over 
the vast, sunlit Emilian Plain, Madonna Bianca 
broke at last the long spell of silence that had endured 
between herself and Castrocaro. 

" I have brought you here, Ser Lorenzo," she said, 
" that you may tell me the true object of your visit to 
San Leo." Her eyes were averted from his face, her 
bosom heaved gently, her voice quivered never so 

He cleared his throat to answer her. His resolve 
was now clear and definite. 

"I can tell you what I did not come to do, Ma- 
donna," he answered, and his accents were almost 
harsh. "I did not come to betray you into the hands 
of your enemies. Of that I here make oath as I hope 
for the salvation of my soul." 

It may seem perjury at the first glance; yet it was 
strictly true, if not the whole truth. As we have seen. 


he had not dreamt that she was in San Leo, or that 
in delivering up the castle to Delia Volpe's men he 
would be delivering up Madonna Bianca. Had he 
known of her presence, he would not, it is certain, 
have accepted the task. Therefore was he able to 
swear as he had done, and to swear truly, though he 
suppressed some truth. 

"That much I think I knew," she answered gently. 

The words and the tone if they surprised him em- 
boldened him in his deceit, urged him along the path 
to which already he had set his foot. At no other 
time — considering what he was, and what she — 
would he have dared so much. But his was now the 
courage of the desperate. He stood to die, and 
nothing in life daunts him who is face to face with 
death. He threw boldly that he might at the eleventh 
hour win back the right to live. 

"Ah, ask me not why I came," he implored her 
hoarsely. "I have dared much, thinking that I dared 
all. But now — here before you, under the glance of 
your angel eyes — my courage fails me. I am become 
a coward who was not afraid when they brought me 
out to die." 

She shivered at his words. This he perceived, and 
inwardly the villain smiled. 

"Look, Madonna." He held out his hands, 
bruised, swollen, and gashed. "1 am something in 
this state from head to foot." He turned. "Look 
yonder." And he pointed down the sheer face of the 
cliff. "That way I came last night — in the dark, 
risking death at every step. You see that ledge, 
where there is scarce room to stand. Along that ledge 
I crept, to yonder wider space, and thence I leapt 


across that little gulf." She shuddered as she fol- 
lowed his tale. "By that crevice I came upwards, 
tearing knees and elbows, and so until I had gained 
the platform on the southern side, there." 

"How brave!" she cried. 

"How mad!" said he. "I show you this that you 
may know what courage then was mine, what in- 
domitable impulse drove me hither. You would not 
think, Madonna, that having braved so much, I 
should falter now, and yet — " He stopped, and 
covered his face with his hands. 

She drew nearer, sidling towards him. "And yet?" 
said she softly and encouragingly. 

"Oh! I dare not!" he cried out. "I was mad — 
mad!" And then by chance his tongue stumbled 
upon the very words to suit his case. " Indeed, I do 
not know what was the spirit of madness that pos- 
sessed me." 

He did not know ! She trembled from head to foot 
at that admission. He did not know! But she knew. 
She knew, and hence the confidence with which she 
had interposed to brush Tolentino aside. For had he 
died, had the executioner driven him over that ledge 
in that horrible death-leap, it would have been her 
hands that had destroyed him. 

For was it not she who had bewitched him? Was it 
not she who had drugged him with a love-philtre — 
the elixirium aureum procured from Messer Corvinus 
Trismegistus? Did she not know that it was that 
elixir, burning fiercely and unappeasably in his veins, 
that had possessed him like a madness and brought 
him thither, reckless of all danger, so that he might 
come to her? 


The mage had said that he would become her utter 
slave ere the moon had waned again. What had been 
the wizard's precise words? She strove to recall them, 
and succeeded: "He will come to you, though the 
whole world lie between you and him." 

Again the confident promise rang in her ears, and 
here, surely, was its fulfilment. Behold how truly had 
the mage spoken — how well his golden elixir had 
done its work. 

Thus reasoned Madonna Bianca, clearly and con- 
fidently. There were tears in her dark eyes as she 
turned them now upon the bowed head of the young 
captain at her side; the corners of her gentle mouth 
drooped wistfully. She put forth a hot hand, and laid 
it gently upon his fair head, which seemed all turned 
to gold in the fierce sunlight. 

"Poor — poor Lorenzo!" she murmured fondly. 

He started round and stared at her, very white. 

"Oh, Madonna!" he cried, and sank upon one knee 
before her. " You have surprised my secret — my un- 
utterable secret! Ah, let me go! Let them hurl me 
from the rock, and so end my wretchedness!" 

It was supremely well done, the villain knew; and 
she were no woman but a very harpy did she now per- 
mit his death. He was prepared for a pitying gentle- 
ness towards an affliction which she must now sup- 
pose her own beauty had inspired, and so he had 
looked for a kindly dismissal. But he was not pre- 
pared for any such answer as she made him. 

"Dear love, what are you saying? Is there no 
other happiness for you save that of death ? Have I 
shown anger? Do I show aught but gladness that for 
me you should have dared so much?" 


To Messer Lorenzo it seemed in that moment that 
something was amiss with the world, or else with his 
poor brain. Was it conceivable that this noble lady 
should herself have turned eyes of favour upon him ? 
Was it possible that she should return this love of his, 
which he had deemed of such small account that in 
his urgent need he had not scrupled to parade it for 
purposes of deceit, where he would not have dared 
parade it otherwise? 

He gave utterance to his overmastering amaze- 

"Oh, it is impossible!" he cried; and this time 
there was no acting in his cry. 

"What is impossible.''" quoth she; and, setting her 
hands under his elbows, she raised him gently from his 
kneeling posture. "What is impossible?" she repeated 
when they stood face to face once more. 

And now the fire in his eyes was not simulated. • 

"It is impossible that you should not scorn my 
love," said he. 

"Scorn it? I? I who have awakened it — I who 
have desired it?" 

"Desired it?" he echoed, almost in a whisper. 
"Desired it?" 

For a spell they stood so, staring each into the 
other's eyes; then they fell into each other's arms, she 
sobbing in her extreme joy, and he upon the verge of 
doing no less, for, as you will perceive, it had been 
a very trying morning for him. 

And it was thus — the Lady of San Leo and the 
Borgia captain clasped heart to heart under the sum- 
mer sky — that Messer Tolentino found them. 

Marvelling at the long delay, the castellan had 


thought it well to go after them. And what he now be- 
held struck him to stone, left him gaping like a foolish 

They fell apart for very decency, and then the lady, 
rosily confused, presented Messer Lorenzo to the 
castellan as her future lord, and explained to him in 
confidence — and as she understood it — the true 
reason of that gentleman's visit to San Leo. 

That Tolentino profoundly and scornfully discoun- 
tenanced the whole affair — that he accounted it un- 
pardonable in his mistress, a loyal subject of Duke 
Guidobaldo's, the holder, indeed, of one of the for- 
tresses of Urbino, to take to husband one whose for- 
tunes followed those of the Borgia usurper — there 
is no doubt, for Messer Tolentino has left it upon 
record. And if he did not there and then tell her so, 
with all that warmth of expression for which he was 
justly renowned, it was because he was dumbfounded 
by sheer amazement. 

Thereafter, Messer Lorenzo was cared for as became 
a man in his position. A bath was prepared for him; 
fresh garments were found to fit him, the richest and 
most becoming being selected; the garrison was dis- 
appointed of its execution, and the Borgia captain 
went to dine at Madonna's table. For this banquet 
the choicest viands that the besieged commanded 
were forthcoming, and the rarest wines from Fio- 
ravanti's cellar were procured. 

Messer Lorenzo was gay and sprightly, and in the 
afternoon, basking in the sunshine of Madonna 
Bianca's smiles, he took up a lute that he discovered 
in her bower, and sang for her one of the atrocious 
songs that in her honour he had made. It was a 


dangerous experiment. And the marvel of it is that, 
despite a pretty taste of her own in lyric composition, 
Madonna Bianca seemed well pleased. 

In all Italy there was no happier man in that hour 
than Lorenzo Castrocaro, who, from the very edge of 
death, saw himself suddenly thrust up to the highest 
and best that he could have dared to ask of life. His 
happiness entirely engrossed his mind awhile. All 
else was forgotten. But suddenly, quite suddenly, re- 
membrance flooded back upon him and left him cold 
with horror. He had been midway through his second 
song. Madonna languishing beside him, when the 
thought struck him, and he checked abruptly. The 
lute fell clattering from his grasp, which had suddenly 
grown nerveless. 

With a startled cry his mistress leaned over him. 

"Enzo! Are you ill?" 

He rose precipitately. 

"No, no; not ill. But — Oh!" He clenched his 
hands and groaned. 

She too had risen, all sweet solicitude, demanding to 
know what ailed him. He turned to her a face that was 
blank with despair. 

"What have I done? What have I done? " he cried, 
thereby increasing her alarm. 

It crossed her mind that perhaps the effect of the 
magician's philtre was beginning to wane. Fearfully, 
urgently she insisted upon knowing what might be 
alarming him ; and he, seeing himself forced to explain, 
paused but an instant to choose a middle course in 
words, to find expressions that would not betray 

"Why, it is this." he cried, and there was real 


chagrin in his voice as there was in his heart. " In my 
hot madness to come hither, I never paused to count 
the cost. I am a Borgia captain, and at this moment 
no better than a traitor, a deserter who has abandoned 
his trust and his condotta to go over to the enemy — 
to sit here and take my ease in the veiy castle that my 
Duke is now besieging." 

At once she perceived and apprehended the awful 
position that was his. 

"Gesu!" she cried. "I had not thought of that." 

"When they take me, they will surely hang me for 
a traitor!" he exclaimed; and indeed he feared it very 
genuinely, for what else was he become? All night he 
had left Delia Volpe and his men to await in vain the 
unbarring of the gate. For having failed there could 
be no excuse other than death or captivity. That he 
should not only remain living, but that he should later 
be discovered to have made alliance with Madonna 
Bianca de' Fioravanti was a matter that could have 
no issue but one. 

"By Heaven, it had been a thousand times better 
had Tolentino made an end of me this morning as he 
intended!" Then he checked abruptly, and turned 
to her penitently. "Ah, no, no! I meant not that, 
Madonna! I spoke without reflecting. I were an in- 
grate to desire that — an ingrate and a fool. For had 
they killed me I had never known this day of happi- 

"Yet what is to be done?" she cried, crushing her 
hands together in her agony of mind. "What is to be 
done, my Enzo? To let you now depart would no 
longer save you. Oh, let me think, let me think!" 
And then, almost at once: "There is a way!" she 


cried; and on that cry, which had been one of glad- 
ness, she fell suddenly very gloomy and thoughtful. 

"What way?" quoth he. 

"I fear it is the only way," she said never so wist- 

And then he guessed what was in her mind and re- 
pudiated the suggestion. 

"Ah! Not that," he protested. "That way we 
must not think of. I could not let you — not even to 
save my life." 

But on the word she looked up at him and her dark 
eye kindled anew with loving enthusiasm. 

"To save your life — yes. That is cause enough to 
justify me. For nothing less would I do it, Enzo; but 
to save you — you whom I have brought into this 
pass — " 

"What are you saying, sweet?" he cried. 

"Why, that the fault is mine, and that I must pay 
the penalty." 

"The fault?" 

"Did I not bring you hither?" 

He flushed, something ill at ease to see — as he 
supposed — his lie recoiling now upon him. 

" Listen ! " she pursued. " You shall do as I bid you. 
You shall go as my envoy to Cesare Borgia, and you 
shall oflFer him the surrender of San Leo in my name, 
stipulating only for the honours of war and the safe- 
conduct of my garrison." 

"No, no!" he protested still, and honestly, his 
villainy grown repugnant. " Besides, how shall that 
serve me?" 

"You shall say that you knew a way to win into 
San Leo and accomplish this — which," she added. 


smiling wistfully, "is, after all, the truth. The Duke 
will be too well content with the result to quarrel with 
the means employed." 

He averted his face. 

"Oh! But it is shameful!" he cried out, and meant 
not what she supposed him to mean. 

" In a few days — in a few weeks, at most — it will 
become inevitable," she reminded him. "After all, 
what do I sacrifice? A little pride, no more than that. 
And shall that weigh against your life with me? 
Better surrender now, when I have something to gain 
from surrender, than later, when I shall have all to 
lose." . 

He considered. Indeed, it was the only way. And, 
after all, he was robbing her of nothing that she must 
not yield in time — of nothing, after all, that it might 
not be his to restore her very soon, in part at least. 
Considering this, and what the Duke had promised 
him, he gave her the fruit of his considerations, yet 
hating himself for the fresh deceit he practised. 

"Be it so, my Bianca," he said; "but upon terms 
more generous than you have named. You shall not 
quit your dwelling here. Let your garrison depart, 
but you remain!" 

"How is that possible?" she asked. 

"It shall be," he assured her confidently, the prom- 
ised governorship in his mind. . 

THAT evening, with letters appointing him her 
plenipotentiary, he rode out of San Leo alone, 
and made his way down into the valley by the bridle- 
path. At the foot of this he came upon Delia Volpe's 
pickets, who bore him off to their captain, refusing to 
believe his statement that he was Lorenzo Castrocaro. 

When Delia Volpe beheld him, the warrior's single 
eye expressed at once suspicion and satisfaction. 

"Where have you been?" he demanded harshly. 
• " In San Leo, yonder," answered Castrocaro simply. 

Delia Volpe swore picturesquely. 

" We had accounted you dead. My men have been 
searching for your body all day at the foot of the 

"I deplore your disappointment and their wasted 
labour," said Lorenzo, smiling; and Delia Volpe swore 

"How came you to fail, and, having failed, how 
come you out alive?" 

"I have not failed," was the answer. "I am riding 
to the Duke with the garrison's terms of capitula- 

Delia Volpe very rudely refused to believe him, 
whereupon Messer Lorenzo thrust under the con- 
dottiero's single eye Madonna Bianca's letters. At 
that the veteran sneered unpleasantly. 

"Ha! By the horns of Satan ! I see! You ever had 
a way with the women, Lorenzo. I see!" 

"For a one-eyed man you see too much," said 


Messer Lorenzo, and turned away. "We will speak of 
this again — when I am wed. Good-night!" 

It was very late when he reached Urbino. But late 
as it was — long after midnight — the Duke was not 
abed. Indeed, Cesare Borgia never seemed to sleep. 
At any hour of the day or night he was to be found by 
those whose business was of import. 

His highness was working in the library with 
Agabito, preparing dispatches for Rome, when 
Messer Lorenzo was ushered into his presence. 

He looked up as the young captain entered. 

" Well," quoth he sharply. " Do you bring me news 
of the capture of San Leo?" 

"Not exactly. Highness," replied the condottiero. 
"But I bring you a proposal of surrender, and the 
articles of capitulation. If your highness will sign 
them, I shall take possession of San Leo in your name 

The Duke's fine eyes scanned the confident young 
face very searchingly. He smiled quietly. 

"You will take possession?" he said. 

"As the governor appointed by your highness," 
Messer Lorenzo blandly explained. 

He laid his letters before the Duke, who scanned 
them with a swift eye, then tossed them to Agabito 
that the latter might con them more minutely. 

"There is a provision that the Lady Bianca de* 
Fioravanti is to remain in San Leo," said the secre- 
tary, marvelling. 

"Why that?" quoth Cesare of Messer Lorenzo. 
"Why, indeed, any conditions?" 

"Matters have put on a curious complexion," 
the condottiero expounded. "Things went not so 


smoothly with me as I had hoped. I will spare your 
highness the details; but, in short, I was caught within 
the castle walls, and — and I had to make the best 
terms I could under such circumstances." 

"You do not, I trust, account them disadvan- 
tageous to yourself? " said Cesare. "It would distress 
me that it should be so. But I cannot think it; for 
Madonna Bianca is accounted very beautiful." 

Castrocaro crimsoned in his sudden and extreme 
confusion. For once he was entirely out of counte- 

"You are informed of the circumstances. High- 
ness?" was all that he could say. 

Cesare's laugh was short and almost contemptuous. 

"I am something of a seer," he replied. "I could 
have foretold this end ere ever you set out. You have 
done well," he added, " and the governorship is yours. 
See to it at once, Agabito. Ser Lorenzo will be in 
haste to return to Madonna Bianca." 

A half-hour later, after the bewildered yet happy 
Castrocaro had departed to ride north again, Cesare 
rose from his writing-table, yawned, and smiled at 
the secretary, who had his confidence and affec- 

"And so, San Leo, that might have held out for a 
year, is won," he said, and softly rubbed his hands in 
satisfaction. "This Castrocaro thinks it is all his own 
achievement. The lady imagines that it is all her own 
— by the aid of that charlatan Trismegistus. Neither 
dreams that all has fallen out as I had intended, and 
by my contriving." He made philosophy for the ben- 
efit of Messer Agabito: "Who would achieve great- 
ness must learn not only to use men, but to use 


them in such a manner that they never suspect they 
are being used. Had I not chanced to overhear what I 
overheard that night at the house of Corvinus Tris- 
megistus, and, knowing what I knew, set the human 
pieces in this game in motion to yield me this result, 
matters might have been different, indeed, and lives 
would have been lost ere San Leo threw up its gates. 
And I have seen to it that the wizard's elizir of love 
should do precisely as he promised for it. Madonna 
Bianca, at least, believes in that impostor." 

"You had foreseen this. Highness, when you sent 
Castrocaro on that dangerous errand?" Agabito ven- 
tured to inquire. 

"What else? Where should I have found me a man 
for whom the matter was less dangerous? He did 
not know that Madonna Bianca was there. I had 
the foresight to keep that matter secret. I sent him, 
confident that, should he fail to open the gates to 
Delia Volpe and be taken, he was crafty enough not 
to betray himself, and Madonna must, of course, 
assume that it was her love-philtre had brought him 
to her irresistibly. Could she have hanged him, 
knowing that? Could she have done other than she 
has done?" 

"Indeed, Corvinus has served you well." 

"So well that he shall have his life. The precious 
poison has failed to kill him, and this is the sixteenth 
day." The Duke laughed shortly, and thrust his 
thumbs into the girdle of his robe, which was of cloth 
of gold, reversed with ermine. "Give the order for 
his release to-morrow, Agabito. But bid them keep 
me his tongue and his right hand as remembrances. 
Thus he will never write or speak another lie." 


San Leo capitulated on the morrow. Tolentino and 
his men rode out with the honours of war, lance on 
thigh, the captain very surly at the affair, which he 
contemptuously admitted passed his understanding. 

Into the fortress came then Messer Lorenzo Castro- 
caro at the head of a troop of his own men, to lay his 
governorship at the feet of Madonna Bianca. 

They were married that very day in the chapel of 
the fortress, and although it was some years before 
each made to the other the confession of the deceit 
which each had practised, the surviving evidence all 
shows — and to the moralists this may seem deplor- 
able — that they were none the less happy in the 
mean time. 





THE Secretary of State of the Signory of Florence 
urged his mule across the bridge that spans the 
Misa, and drawing rein upon the threshold of the 
town of Sinigaglia, stood tliere at gaze. On his right 
to westward the sun was sinking to the distant hazy 
line of the Apennines, casting across the heaven an 
incendiary glow to blend with that of the flames that 
rose above the city. 

The Secretary hesitated. His nature was gentle 
and almost timid, as becomes a student and a man of 
thought, being in his own case in violent contrast to 
the ruthless directness of his theories. Scanning the 
scene before him with the wide-set, observant eyes 
that moved so deliberately in his astute, olive-tinted 
face, he wondered uneasily how things might have 
fared with Cesare Borgia. Uproar reached him, com- 
pleting the tale of violence which was borne to his 
senses already by the sight of the flames. The uneasy 
guards at the gate who had watched him closely, 
mistrusting his hesitation, hailed him at last, de- 
manding to know his business. He disclosed himself, 
whereupon they respectfully bade him to pass on and 
enjoy an ambassador's immunity. 

Thus bidden he conquered his hesitation, touched 
his mule with the spur and pushed on through the 


slush and snow that had accumulated about the gate- 
way into the borgo, where he found a comparative 
calm, past the market-place which was deserted, and 
on towards the palace. 

The clamour, he observed, came all from the eastern 
quarter of the town, which he knew — for he was a 
surprisingly well-informed gentleman, this Florentine 
— to be inhabited by the Venetian traders and the 
prosperous Jews. Hence he argued logically — for he 
was ever logical — that the main issue was decided 
and that the uproar was that of looting soldiery; and 
knowing as he did the rigour with which looting was 
forbidden to the followers of the Duke of Valentinois, 
the only sane conclusion seemed to him to be that, not- 
withstanding all the guile and craft at his command, 
the Duke had been worsted in the encounter with his 
mutinous condottieri. And yet in his wisdom and in 
his knowledge of men Messer Macchiavelli hesitated 
to accept such a conclusion, however much the facts 
might seem to thrust it upon him. He guessed some- 
thing of Cesare Borgia's design in coming to Sinigaglia 
to make peace with the rebels and settle terms for the 
future. He knew that the Duke had been prepared 
for treachery — that he had done no more than pre- 
tend to walk into a trap, having taken care first to 
make himself master of its springs. That in spite of 
this those springs should have snapped upon him, the 
Secretary could not believe. And yet undoubtedly 
pillage was toward, and pillage was forbidden by the 

Marvelling, then, Messer Macchiavelli rode on up 
the steep street towards the palace. Soon his progress 
was arrested. The narrow way was thronged and 


solid with humanity; a great mob surged before the 
palace. Upon one of its balconies in the distance he 
could faintly discern the figure of a man, and since 
this man was gesticulating, the Secretary concluded 
that he was haranguing the multitude. 

Messer Macchiavelli leaned from the saddle to 
question a rustic on the outskirts of the mob. 

"What is happening?" quoth he. 

"The Devil knows," answered the man addressed. 
"His Potency the Duke with Messer Vitellozzo and 
some others went into the palace two hours since. 
Then comes one of his captains — they say it was 
Messer da Corella — with soldiery, and they went 
down into the borgo where they say they have fallen 
upon the troops of the Lord of Fermo, and the Lord of 
Fermo is in the palace too, and it is New Year's Day 
to-morrow. By the Madonna, an ugly beginning to 
the new year this, whatever may be happening 1 They 
are burning and looting and fighting down there, 
until they have made the borgo into the likeness of 
hell, and in the palace the devil knows what may be 
happening. Gesu Maria ! These be dread times, sir. 
They do say . . ." 

Abruptly he checked his loquaciousness under the 
discomposingly fixed gaze of those sombre, observant 
eyes. He examined his questioner more closely, noted 
his sable, clerkly garments heavily trimmed with fur, 
mistrusted instinctively that crafty, shaven face with 
its prominent cheek-bones, and bethought him that 
he were perhaps wiser not to make himself further the 
mouthpiece of popular rumour. 

"But then," he ended abruptly, therefore, "they 
say so much that I know not what they say." 


The thin lines of Macchiavelli's lips lengthened 
slightly in a smile, as he penetrated the reasons of the 
man's sudden reticence. He pressed for no further in- 
formation, for indeed he needed no more than already 
he had received. If the Duke's men under Corella had 
fallen upon Oliverotto da Fermo's troops, then his 
expectations had been realized, and Cesare Borgia, 
meeting treachery with treachery, had stricken down 
the mutinous condottieri. 

A sudden surge of the crowd drove the Florentine 
orator and the rustic apart. A roar rose from the 
throat of the multitude. 

"Duca! Duca!" 

Standing in his stirrups, Macchiavelli beheld in the 
distance before the palace a glitter of arms and the 
fluttering of bannerols bearing the bull device of the 
House of Borgia. The lances formed into a double 
file, and this clove a way through that human press, 
coming rapidly down the street towards the spot 
where the secretary's progress had been arrested. 

The crowd was flung violently back like water be- 
fore the prow of a swift-sailing ship. Men stumbled 
against one another, each in turn cursing the one who 
thrust against him, and in a moment all was fierce 
clamour and seething anger; yet above it all rang the 
acclaiming shout: 

"Duca! Duca!" 

On came the glittering riders, jingling and clank- 
ing, and at their head on a powerful black charger 
rode a splendid figure, all steel from head to foot. His 
vizor was open, and the pale young face within was set 
and stern. The beautiful hazel eyes looked neither 
to right nor left, taking no heed of the acclamations 


thundering all about him. Yet those eyes saw every- 
thing whilst seeming to see nothing. They saw the Flo- 
rentine orator, and seeing him, they kindled suddenly. 

Macchiavelli swept off his bonnet, and bowed to 
the very withers of his mule to salute the conqueror. 
The pale young face smiled almost with a certain 
conscious pride, for the Duke was well pleased to have, 
as it were, the very eyes of Florence upon him in such 
a moment. He drew rein on a level with the envoy. 

"Oia, Ser Niccol6!" he called. 

The lances cleared a path speedily, flinging the 
crowd still farther back, and Messer Macchiavelli 
walked his mule forward in answer to that summons. 

"It is done," the Duke announced. "I have ful- 
filled no less than I promised. What it was I prom- 
ised you will now understand. I made my opportu- 
nity, and having made it I employed it — so well that 
I hold them fast, Vitelli, Oliverotto, Gravina, and 
Giangiordano's bastard. The other Orsini, Gianpaolo 
Baglioni and Petrucci, will follow. My net is wide- 
flung, and to the last man they shall pay the price of 

He paused, waiting for words that should tell him 
not what opinion might be Messer Macchiavelli's 
own, but what reception such news was likely to re- 
ceive in Florence. The Secretary, however, had all 
the caution of the astute. He was not addicted to 
any unnecessary expressions of opinion. His face re- 
mained inscrutable. He bowed in silence, as one who 
accepts a statement without consciousness of the right 
to comment. 

A frown flickered between the splendid eyes that 
were considering him. 


" I have done a very great service to your masters, 
the Signory of Florence," he said, almost in a tone of 

"The Signory shall be informed. Magnificent," 
was the orator's evasive answer, "and I shall await 
the honour of conveying to your potency the Signory's 

"Much has been done," the Duke resumed. "But 
much is yet to do, and who shall tell me what?" He 
looked at Macchiavelli, and his eyes invited counsel. 

"Does your potency ask me?" 

"Indeed," said the Duke. 

"For theory?" 

The Duke stared; then laughed. "For theory," 
he said. "The practice you can leave to me." 

Macchiavelli's eyes narrowed. "When I speak of 
theory," he explained, "I mean an opinion personal 
to myself — not a pronouncement of the Florentine 
Secretary." He leaned a little nearer. "When a 
prince has enemies," he said quietly, "he must deal 
with them in one of two ways; he must either convert 
them into friends or put it beyond their power to con- 
tinue his enemies." 

The Duke smiled slowly. "Where learnt you 
that?" he asked. 

"I have watched with admiration your potency's 
rise to greatness," said the Florentine. 

"And you have melted down my actions into max- 
ims to govern my future?" 

" More, Magnificent, to govern all future princes." 

The Duke looked squarely into that sallow, astute 
face with its sombre eyes and prominent cheekbones. 

" I sometimes wonder which you are — courtier or 


philosopher," he said. " But your advice is timely — 
either make them my friends or put it beyond their 
power to continue my enemies. I could not again trust 
them as my friends. You will see that. There- 
fore ..." He broke off. " But we will talk of this 
again, when I return. Corella's troops have got out of 
hand; they are burning and looting in the borgo, and I 
go to set a term to it, or else peddling Venice will be in 
arms to recover the ducats plundered from her shop- 
keepers. You will find entertainment in the palace. 
Await me there." 

He made a sign to his lances, wheeled, and rode on 
briskly about his task, while Macchiavelli in his turn 
went off in the opposite direction, through the lane 
opened out for him very readily in the crowd, since all 
had seen that he was one who enjoyed the exalted 
honour of the Duke's acquaintance. 

The Florentine made his way to the palace as he 
had been bidden, and thence he indited his famous 
letter to the Signory of Florence, in which he an- 
nounced these happenings to his masters. He in- 
formed them of the manner adopted by Cesare Borgia 
to turn the tables upon those who had not kept faith 
with him, he told them how his master-stroke had 
resulted in the seizure of the three Orsini, of Vitellozzo 
Vitelli, and Oliverotto, Lord of Fermo, and he con- 
cluded with the opinion: "I greatly doubt if any of 
them will be alive by morning." 

Anon he was to realize that for all his penetration 
he had failed to plumb to its fiiU depth the craft and 
guile of Cesare Borgia. So astute an observer should 
nave perceived that to have wrung the necks of the 
Orsini out of hand would have been to spread con- 


sternation and alarm in the lair of the bear in Rome, 
and that being alarmed the powerful Cardinal Orsini, 
his brother Giulio and his nephew Matteo (with 
whom we are more particularly concerned) might 
seek safety in flight, and in that safety concert re- 

Macchiavelli's failure to foresee the course which 
such considerations must dictate to Cesare is another 
proof of how much the Duke was the Florentine's 
master in statecraft. 

The Lords of Fermo and Castello were deait with 
as Macchiavelli expected. They were formally 
judged, found guilty of treason against their over- 
lord, and strangled that same night — back to back, 
with the same rope, it is said — in the Palace of the 
Prefecture of Sinigaglia, whereafter their bodies were 
ceremoniously borne to the Misericordia Hospital. 
But the Orsini did not share just yet the fate of their 
fellow traitors. They were accorded another ten days 
of life, until, that is, Cesare had received advices from 
Rome that the Cardinal Orsini and the rest of the 
Orsini brood were safely captured. Thereupon at 
Assisi — whither the Duke had removed himself by 
then — Gravina and Paolo Orsini were delivered over 
to the strangler. 

The Duke's net had been wide-flung, as he told 
Macchiavelli on that evening in Sinigaglia. Yet four 
there were who had escaped its meshes: Gianpaolo 
Baglioni, prevented from waiting upon the Duke in 
Sinigaglia by an illness which had proved less fatal to 
him than had their health to his associates; Pandolfo 
Petrucci, Tyrant of Siena — the only one of them all 
who seems to have had the wit to mistrust the Duke's 


intentions — who armed at all points had taken ref- 
uge behind the ramparts of his city, there to wait 
upon events; Fabio Orsini, who had gone after 
Petrucci; and Matteo Orsini, the latter's cousin and 
the cardinal's nephew, who had vanished no man 
knew whither. 

The Duke set himself the task of hunting down the 
first three, whose whereabouts were known to him. 
Matteo mattered less, and could be left until later. 

"But I swear to God," Cesare informed Fra Sera- 
fino, the minorite friar who discharged the functions 
of secretary in the absence of the moon-faced Agabito 
— "I swear to God, that there is no hole in Italy into 
which I shall not pursue him." 

This was at Assisi on the very day that he ordered 
the strangling of Gravina and Giangiordano's bastard. 
On that same evening came one of his spies with in- 
formation that Matteo Orsini was in hiding at Pie- 
vano, the castle of his distant kinsman Almerico — an 
Orsini this last, too aged and too inactive to be worthy 
the Duke's attention, a studious man, living almost in 
seclusion with his books and his daughter, untouched 
by ambition, asking but to be left in peace, undis- 
turbed by all the strife and bloodshed that were afflict- 
ing Italy. 

The Duke was housed in the Rocca Maggiore, that 
grey embattled fortress crowning the steep hill above 
the city, and from the height of its scarred and rugged 
slopes dominating the Umbrian plain. He received 
the messenger in a vast stone-flagged chamber that 
was very bare and chill. A great fire roared in the 
cavernous fireplace, shedding an orange glow upon the 
empty spaces and driving the shadows before it to 


seek refuge in the groins of the ceiling overhead. Yet 
the Duke, pacing thoughtfully back and forth whilst 
the messenger related what he had discovered, was 
tightly wrapped for greater warmth in a scarlet 
mantle lined with lynx fur. Fra Serafino occupied an 
oaken writing-pulpit near one of the windows, and sat 
cutting a quill, apparently lost in his task, yet missing 
no word of what was being said. 

The messenger was intelligent, and he had been 
diligent. Not content with learning that Matteo 
Orsini was believed to be at Pievano, he had scoured 
the borgo for scraps of gossip, anticipating out of his 
own knowledge the very question which the Duke 
now asked him — though not directly — and seeing 
to it that he came equipped with a ready answer. 

"This, then, is mere gossip," Cesare sneered. "*It 
is said' that Matteo Orsini is at Pievano. I am sick 
to death of *It is said,' and all his family. I have 
known him long, and never found him other than a 

" But the tale, may it please your potency, has its 
probabilities," said the messenger. 

The Duke halted in his pacing. He stood before 
the flaming logs, and put out a hand to its genial 
warmth — a hand so delicate and slender that you 
would never have supposed its tapering fingers to pos- 
sess a strength that could snap a horseshoe. Stand- 
ing thus, the leaping firelight playing over his scarlet 
cloak, he seemed himself a thing of fire. He threw 
back his tawny young head, and his lovely eyes lost 
their dreamy though tfulness as they fastened now 
upon the messenger. 

"Probabilities?" said he. "Discover them." 


The messenger was prepared to do so. 

"The Count Almerico has a daughter," he said 
promptly. "It is the common talk of Pievano that 
this lady — Madonna Fulvia she is called — and Ser 
Matteo are to be married. The kinship between them 
is none so close as to forbid it. The old count ap- 
proves, loving Ser Matteo as a son. And so, where else 
in Italy should Ser Matteo be safer than with those 
who love him? Then, too, Pievano is remote, its lord 
is a man of books, taking no part in worldly turbu- 
lence; therefore Pievano, being of all places the last in 
which one would think of looking for Ser Matteo is the 
likeliest to which he would run for shelter. Thus cir- 
cumstances confirm the rumour of his presence there." 

The Duke considered the fellow in silence for a mo- 
ment, weighing what he said. 

"You reason well," he admitted at length, and the 
messenger bowed himself double, overwhelmed by so 
much commendation. "You have leave to go. Bid 
them tell Messer da Corella to attend me." 

The man bowed again, stepped softly to the door 
and vanished. As the heavy curtain quivered to rest, 
Cesare sauntered across to one of the windows and 
stared out upon the bleak landscape stretching for 
miles before him in the cold light of that January 
afternoon. Above the distant blue-grey mass of the 
Apennines the brooding sky was slashed with gold. 
The river Chiagi winding its way to the Tiber lay like 
a silver ribbon upon the dull green plain. Cesare 
stared before him awhile seeing nothing of all this. 
Then abruptly he turned to Fra Serafino, who was 
now testing the quill he had cut. 

"What is to be done to take this fellow?" he asked. 


It was his way to seek advice of all men, yet never 
following any but such as jumped with his own wishes. 
And where no man's advice consorted with his own 
notions, he acted upon his own notions none the less. 

The gaunt-faced monk looked up, almost startled 
by the suddenness of the question. Knowing the 
Duke's way, and knowing that Corella had been sent 
for, Fra Serafino put two and two together, and pre- 
sented the Duke with what he conceived to be the 
total sum. 

"Send ten lances to fetch him from Pievano," he 

"Ten lances — fifty men . . . Hum! And if Pievano 
were to throw up its bridges, and resist?" 

"Send another twenty lances and a gun," said 

The Duke considered him, smiling faintly. 

"You prove to me that you know nothing of Pie- 
vano, and still less of men, Fra Serafino. I wonder do 
you know anything of women?" 

"God forbid!" ejaculated the monk, utterly scan- 

"Then are you worthless as a counsellor in this," 
was the Duke's conclusion. "I had hoped you could 
have imagined yourself a woman for a moment." 

"Imagine myself a woman?" quoth Fra Serafino, 
his deep-set eyes staring. 

"That you might tell me what manner of man 
would be likeliest to delude you. You see, Pievano 
is a rabbit warren. You might conceal an army there, 
how much more easily a single man ! And I do not 
intend to alarm the Count Almerico into sending to 
earth a guest whom we are not absolutely sure that 


he is harbouring. You see the difficulty, I trust? To 
resolve it I shall need a man of little heart and less 
conscience; a scoundrel who is swayed by nothing but 
his own ambition, who cares for nothing but his own 
advancement; and it is an inevitable condition that he 
should be of an exterior that is pleasing to a woman 
and likely to command her confidence. Now where 
shall I find me such a paragon?" 

But Fra Serafino had no answer. He was lost in an 
amazed consideration of the crooked underground 
ways by which Cesare burrowed to his ends. And 
then Corella clanked in, booted, bearded, stalwart, 
and stiff, the very type of the condottiero. 

The Duke turned, and considered him in silence 
at long length. In the end he shook his head. 

"No," he said, "you are not the man. You are too 
much the soldier, too little the courtier, too much the 
swordsman, too little the lute-player, and I think that 
you are almost ugly. If you were a woman, Fra Sera- 
fino, should you not consider him an ugly fellow?" 

"I am not a woman. Magnificent ..." 

"That is all too evident," the Duke deplored. 

"And I do not know what I should think if I were a 
woman. Probably I should not think at all, for I do 
not believe that women think." 

"Misogynist," said the Duke. 

"God be thanked," said Fra Serafino devoutly. 

The Duke returned to the consideration of his capv- 

. "No," he said again. "The essence of success is to 
choose the right tools for the work in hand; and you 
are not the tool for this, Michele. I want a handsome, 
greedy, unscrupulous scoundrel, who can both ply a 


sword and lisp a sonnet. Where shall I find one an- 
swering that description? Ferrante da Isola would 
have been the very man, but poor Ferrante died o( 
one of his own jests." 

"What is the task, Magnificent?" ventured Corella. 

"I'll tell that to the man I send to do it, when 1 
have found him. Is Ramirez here?" he asked sud- 

"He is at Urbino, my lord," Corella answered. 
"But there is Pantaleone degli Uberti, who seems in 
some way such a man as you describe." 

The Duke considered. "Send him hither," he said 
shortly, and Corella bowed stiffly, and departed on 
that errand. 

Cesare paced slowly back to the fire, and stood 
warming himself until Pantaleone came — a tall, 
handsome fellow this, with sleek black hair and bold 
black eyes, martial at once in bearing and in apparel, 
yet with a certain foppishness not unbecoming to his 

The interview was short. "From information that 
I have received," said Cesare, "I will wager a thou- 
sand ducats to a horseshoe that Matteo Orsini is with 
his uncle at Pievano. I offer that thousand ducats for 
his head. Go and earn it." 

Pantaleone was taken aback. He blinked his bold 
black eyes. 

"What men shall I take?" he stammered. 

"What men you please. But understand the thing 
is not to be done by force. At the first show of it, 
Matteo, if he is there, will go to earth like a mole, and 
not all your questing shall discover him. This is an 
affair for wits, not lances. There is a woman at Pie- 


vano who loves Matteo, or whom Matteo loves. . . . 
But you will see for yourself what opportunities there 
are, and you will use them. Corella thinks you have 
the wit to accomplish such a task. Afford me proof of 
it, and I will make your fortune." He waved his hand 
in dismissal, and Pantaleone stifled a hundred ques- 
tions that were bubbling in his mind, and departed. 

Fra Serafino stroked his lean nose thoughtfully 
with his quill. 

"I would not trust that fellow with a woman, nor a 
woman with that fellow," he delivered himself. "He 
is too full in the lips." 

"That," said Cesare, "is why I chose him." 

"In a woman's hands he will be so much wax," the 
monk continued. 

" I am stiffening him with a thousand ducats," said 
the Duke. 

But the friar's pessimism was nothing lessened. 
"A woman's arts can melt gold until it runs," said he. 

The Duke looked at him a moment. "You know 
too much about women, Fra Serafino," he said, and 
under that rebuke the monkish secretary shuddered 
and fell silent. 


Pievano on the wings of a snowstorm that swept 
across the Perugian foothills, and he arrived alone. 
Within a couple of leagues of the little town he had 
parted company with the ten knaves he had brought 
with him from Assisi. He gave them orders to break 
up into groups of twos and threes and thus follow him 
to Pievano, each group seeking different quarters and 
pretending no acquaintance with the others. He con- 
certed signals by which at need he could rally them to 
himself, and arranged that of the group of three who 
were to take up their quarters at the Osteria del Toro, 
one at least should remain constantly at the inn where 
at any moment Pantaleone could find him. 

Messer Pantaleone, you see, was a man of method. 

He bade them, further, dissemble their true estate, 
and, himself adopting this course which he imposed 
upon his followers, he staggered some hours later 
over the drawbridge into the courtyard of the citadel 
on foot, a bedraggled, footsore man who seemed to be 
upon the point of utter exhaustion. Admitted by a 
groom, he reeled into the presence of the Lord Alme- 
rico Orsini and gasped out as if with his last breath an 
urgent prayer for sanctuary. 

"I am a hunted man, my lord," he lied. "That 
bloody despot Valentinois clamours for this poor life 
of mine to swell his hecatomb." 

The old Lord of Pievano's white hands clawed the 
carved ebony arms of his great chair. From under 


shaggy brows his piercing dark eyes were bent upon 
this visitor. He knew well, what was the hecatomb 
to which Messer Pantaleone referred; no need for him 
to ask; absorbed though he might be in*his studies and 
removed in mind, as in body, from all worldly turbu- 
lence, yet, being an Orsini, it was not in human nature 
that he should remain ignorant of and indifferent to 
the shedding of Orsini blood. And since here was a 
man who, as it seemed, was come straight from the 
scene of strife, he was to be welcomed as one bringing 
news on matters closely touching the Lord of Pievano. 

Yet it was as characteristic of old Almerico Orsini 
as it was anomalous in his day — when life was cheap 
and the misfortunes of others troubled men but little 
— that his first thought should be for this stranger's 
condition. Seeing him so piteously bedraggled, so 
white and haggard, swaying like a drunkard where 
he stood and breathing with obvious difficulty — in 
short, a man who had reached the uttermost limits of 
endurance — the Lord Almerico made a swift sign to 
the groom who had admitted him. The lackey thrust 
forward a rush-seated chair, and into this Messer 
Pantaleone sank limply yet gratefully, dropping his 
sodden cap upon the marbled floor and loosening his 
great red cloak so that his soldier's leather harness 
was revealed. 

He looked at the Lord Almerico with a faint smile 
that seemed to express his thanks, and then his bold 
eyes, seeming very weary now under their heavy 
drooping lids, passed on to the lady who stood beside 
her father's chair. She was a girl, no more, of a wil- 
lowy, virginal slenderness, very simply clad in a wine- 
coloured gown cut square across her white young 


breast, and caught about her slender waist by a silver 
girdle with a beryl clasp. Her blue- black hair was 
held in a clump behind by a net of golden cord; her 
eyes, of a blue so deep that they seemed almost black, 
considered him piteously from out of her pale face. 

Thus Messer Pantaleone first beheld her, and since 
his taste in women was of the rude sort that craves 
for swelling amplitudes of form, his questing glance 
passed on without reluctance to rake the shadows of 
that noble chamber, looking for another who was not 

"Why are you come to me?" Almerico asked him 
with inscrutable simplicity. 

^"Why ?" Messer Pantaleone blinked as though the 
oddness of the question afforded him surprise. "Be- 
cause you are an Orsini, and because my cause is the 
cause of the Orsini." He proceeded to explain himself. 
"Paolo Orsini was my friend." 

"PFas?" The question came sharply from Ma- 
donna Fulvia. 

Pantaleone fetched a deep sigh, and sank together 
like a man in the uttermost depths of dejection. "I 
see you have not heard. Yet I should have thought 
that by now such evil news had travelled o'er the face 
of all Italy. Paolo was strangled yesterday at Assisi, 
and with him was strangled too the Duke of Gravina." 

The old man uttered a sharp cry. He half-rose 
from his seat, supporting himself upon trembling 
arms; then, bereft of strength, he sank back again. 

"God's curse upon me who am the bearer of ill- 
tidings," growled the crafty Pantaleone savagely. 

But the old man, recovering from his momentary 
collapse under the shock of that news, reproved him 


for his words, whilst Monna Fulvia stood immobile 
and rigid in a grief that was after all impersonal, for, 
although they were her kinsmen, she had known 
neither of those whose death this fugitive announced. 

"That is not yet all," Pantaleone pursued, as if 
defending himself against Lord Almerico's reproof. 
"From Rome comes news that the Cardinal is in a 
dungeon of Sant' Angelo, that Giangiordano is taken, 
together with Santacroce and I know not whom be- 
sides. We know what mercy the Borgia will display. 
The Pope and his bastard will never rest as long as in 
the House of Orsini one stone remains upon another." 

"Then will he never rest, indeed," said Monna 
Fulvia proudly. 

"I pray so, Madonna, devoutly do I pray it — I 
who was Paolo Orsini's friend and who to my undying 
shame have served the Borgia tyrant with him. For 
that — because Valentinois knows that if I served him 
it was but because I served Orsini and that I am to be 
reckoned as of the Orsini's family — I am now pro- 
scribed and hunted, and if I am taken I shall perish as 
Paolo and Gravina perished and as men say that Mat- 
teo Orsini perished too." 

In nothing perhaps does the craft of the man ap- 
pear so starkly as in this probing statement. As he 
spoke these words he watched father and daughter 
closely, seeming but to consider them with eyes of 
concern and pity. He saw the sudden movement of 
astonishment that neither could repress. Then came 
the girl's question, laden with a sudden and betraying 

"Do men say that?" she cried, her eyes kindling 
and her bosom quickening in her faint excitement. 


" It is the common talk," said that swindler sorrow- 
fully. " I pray God and the saints it be untrue." 

"Indeed . . ." Almerico began gravely, as if to re- 
assure him, and then caution supervening, he ab- 
ruptly checked. Unworldly and guileless though he 
might be, yet some knowledge of his fellow man had 
come to him with his years, and this fugitive inspired 
him with little trust, awakening in him an unusual 
caution. Obeying it, he altered the tone and current 
of his phrase. "I thank you, sir, for that prayer." 

But Pantaleone, accounting himself answered, con- 
cluded that Cesare Borgia's suspicions were correct, 
and that Matteo Orsini was in hiding here at Pie- 
vano or hereabouts. He reasoned syllogistically. The 
woman who loved Matteo Orsini would not have re- 
ceived the news of his death with such equanimity had 
she not been positively assured that he was living. 
Such assurance in such times nothing short of the 
man's presence at Pievano could afford. The very 
eagerness with which she had received the rumour 
Pantaleone had invented at Matteo Orsini's death 
showed how welcome would be a tale that might di- 
minish the hunt for that proscribed fugitive. 

Wearing outwardly his mask of dejection, Messer 
Pantaleone's treacherous heart rejoiced in this assur- 
ance that he was hot upon the trail, and that soon 
Matteo Orsini and a thousand ducats would be his. 

But now he had to submit to questionings from his 
host. Almerico's mistrust demanded to know more of 

"You are from Assisi?" he inquired. 

"From the Lord Duke of Valentinois's camp 
there," answered the emissary. 


"And you fled incontinently when they strangled 
Paolo and Gravina?" 

"Not so." Messer Pantaleone saw the trap. In a 
game of wits he was a match for any ten such recluse 
students as the Lord of Pievano. "That, as I have 
said, was yesterday — before Cesare Borgia had proof 
of my devotion to the Orsini. But for that same devo- 
tion and the need to act upon it, I might have re- 
mained a captain in the tyrant's service. But it hap- 
pened that I knew of Valentinois's designs upon Pe- 
trucci at Siena. I attempted to send a letter of warn- 
ing to Petrucci. That letter was intercepted, and I had 
but time to get to horse before the hangman's grooms 
should come to fetch me. I rode that beast to death a 
league from here. My notion was to get to Siena and 
Petrucci; but, being unhorsed and in hourly danger of 
capture, I bethought me that I would turn aside and 
seek sanctuary here. Yet, my lord," he ended, rising 
with elaborate show of physical pain and difficulty, 
"if so be you think that by my presence I shall 
draw down upon you Valentino's vengeful justice, 
then . . ." He gathered his cloak about him, like a 
man about to take his leave. 

"A moment, sir — a moment," said Almerico, 
hesitating; and he put forth a hand to stay the 

"What matters Valentinois?" cried the girl, and 
quick anger blazed in her eyes, transmuting them into 
fiery sapphires. "Who fears him? We were base, in- 
deed, did we let you suffer for your generous impulse, 
sir, to turn you hence who have been our kinsman's 
friend. While there is a roof on Pievano you may 
sleep tranquilly under it." 


Don Almerico shifted in his chair and grunted as 
she brought that impulsive speech to its conclusion. 
His daughter went too fast, he thought. Whilst him- 
self he should have been reluctant to have driven out 
this man who came in quest of sanctuary, yet Monna 
Fulvia outstripped him altogether in the matter of 

He spread a white transparent hand to the blazing 
logs, and with the other stroked his shaven chin cogi- 

Then, looking squarely at the stranger: 

"What is your name, sir?" he asked him bluntly. 

"I am called Pantaleone degli Uberti," said the ad- 
venturer, who had enough worldly wisdom never to 
make use of lies where truth could be employed with 

"An honourable name," the old man murmured, 
nodding as to himself. "Well, well ! I will leave it, sir, 
to your discretion not to tarry at Pievano longer than 
need be. I think not of myself." He shrugged and 
smiled deprecatingly, a smile of singular charm that 
illumined as with a light of lingering youth within the 
venerable old face. " I am too old to weigh the paltry 
sum of life remaining me against a service due to an 
honourable man. But there is this child to consider, 
and the risk of your discovery here . . ." 

But at that she interrupted him, breaking in with 
the impulsiveness of her generous youth and womanly 

"Who runs great risks may disregard such lesser 
ones," she cried, whereat Ser Pantaleone became all 

."By the_Host! not so," her father answered. "We 


dare add nothing at present to draw attention upon 
ourselves. You see . . ." 

He checked under the suddenly tightened curb of 
reawakening caution, and his eyes flashed keenly 
upon his visitor. 

But Pantaleone's face was dull and wooden, a mask 
betraying nothing of his inward satisfaction. For his 
quick wits had without difficulty completed the Lord 
of Pievano's broken sentence, and found it confirming 
the assurance he had already formed of Matteo Or- 
sini's presence there. 

Seeing himself scanned with mistrust, he chose that 
moment to stagger where he stood. He reeled side- 
ways, one hand to his brow, the other groping feebly 
for support. Thus he crashed against a bronze table 
that stood near him, sent it slithering a yard or so 
along the marble tiles, and, missing its resistance, he 
fell heavily beside it and lay at full stretch upon the 

" I am spent," he groaned. 

They sprang to him at once — all three: Almerico, 
his daughter and the groom, who had remained in the 
background awaiting his dismissal. And whilst her 
father went down on his old joints to lend immediate 
aid. Madonna Fulvia issued orders briskly to the gap- 
ing lackey. 

"Fetch Mario, quickly," she commanded. "Bid 
them bring wine and vinegar and napkins. Run!" 

Pantaleone raised his lolling head and supported it 
against Almerico's knee. He opened dull eyes, and 
babbled incoherent excuses for thus discomposing 
them. This manifestation of concern for them at such 
a moment touched them profoundly when coupled 


with his condition; it melted the old Orsini's lingering 
mistrust as snow upon the hills is melted by the April 
suns. The man's extremity was dire and obvious — 
and what could have produced it but the tribulations 
of which he told? 

Came Mario — a short, sturdy fellow with a face 
that was the colour of clay, and so ridged and pitted 
by smallpox that it seemed no more than a hideous 
mask, a grotesque simulacrum of a human counte- 
nance. He was nominally the castellan of Pievano; in 
effect he was many things, a factotum including in 
his manifold accomplishments the arts of chirurgeon, 
horse-leech, and barber. He was rigidly honest, faith- 
ful, self-sufficient, and ignorant. 

In his wake now as acolytes came a groom, Monna 
Fulvia's own woman, and Raffaele the page. Among 
them they bore flasks and flagons, napkins and a sil- 
ver basin. With the others they made a group about 
Ser Pantaleone, whilst Mario went down on one knee 
beside him and fumbled his pulse, his countenance 
grave and oracular. 

This pulse-feeling was a piece of impressive mum- 
mery, no more. For whatever irregularity Mario had 
discovered there, his prescription would have varied 
nothing. Finding no irregularity whatever, it still va- 
ried nothing. 

"Exhaustion. Ha!" he diagnosed. "A little blood- 
letting will revive him. I'll ease him of some six 
ounces, and all will be well." He rose. "Vincenzo, 
lend a hand, and we'll carry him to bed. You, Raf- 
faele, light the way for us." 

So Mario and the groom lifted up our gentleman 
between them. The page took up one of the gilt can- 


dlesticks that stood taller than himself upon the floor, 
and went ahead. The rear was brought up by Vir- 
ginia, the waiting-maid, and thus in some sort of state 
was Messer Pantaleone degli Uberti carried to bed 
and established at Pievano. 


PANTALEONE awoke refreshed upon the mor- 
row, none the worse for the loss of the six ounces 
of blood upon which Mario's chirurgy had insisted 
and to which he himself had been forced to submit 
that he might play out his part. 

He found his room suffused with the pale sunshine 
of a January morning and fragrant with the subtle, 
refreshing perfume of lemon verbena steeped in po- 
tent vinegar; he found it occupied by the page Raf- 
faele, a graceful stripling with a lovely, impudent face 
and smooth hair that was the colour of buttercups. 

"For lack of a man to serve you they have sent 
me," the page explained himself. 

Pantaleone considered the supple figure in its suit 
of green that fitted it like a skin. 

"And what are you?" he wondered. "A lizard?" 

"I am glad to see you are mending," said the boy. 
"Impudence, they tell me, is a sign of health." 

"And they tell it you often, I've no doubt, and 
find you healthy in excess," said Pantaleone, smiling 

"Gesu!" said the boy, with uplifted eyes. "I'll 
bear news of your complete recovery tp my lord." 

"Stay," Pantaleone bade him, desiring to have a 
certain matter explained. "Since you were sent to 
serve, give me first to eat. I may be an indifferent 
Christian, seeing that I have in a sense been in the 
service of the Pope; but I find it difficult to fast in 
Lent and impossible in any other season. There is a 


bowl yonder, steaming. Let it be employed in the 
service for which it was designed." 

Raffaele fetched the bowl which contained a meas- 
ure of broth, and with it a platter bearing a small 
wheaten loaf. He also fetched a silver basin with 
water and a napkin. But these Pantaleone waved 
impatiently away. He had been reared in camps, 
not courts, and was out of sympathy with the affecta- 
tions of mincing fellows who carry washing to excess. 

He drank a portion of the soup noisily, broke bread 
and munched it, considered the page gravely, and set 
out upon his quest of the information which he con- 
ceived was to be gathered. 

"For lack of men they sent you to me," he said, 
pondering. "How come they to lack men at Pievano? 
The Lord Almerico is a great and potent lord, such as 
should not want for lackeys. Whence then, this lack 
of men ? " 

The boy perched himself upon the bed. "Whence 
are you, Messer Pantaleone?" he inquired. 

"I? I am from Perugia," said the condottiero. 

"And is it not known in Perugia that the Lord Al- 
merico is above all things a man of peace — of peace 
and books .f* He is more concerned with Seneca than 
with any tyrant in Italy." 

"With whom?" asked Pantaleone. 

"With Seneca," the boy repeated. 

"Who is he?" quoth Pantaleone, staring. 

"A philosopher," said Raffaele. "My lord loves all 

"Then he will love me," said Pantaleone, and 
drank the remainder of his broth. "But you haven't 
answered my question." 


"I have, indeed. I conveyed to you that my lord 
keeps here no such family as might be expected in 
one of his estate. There are but four grooms in his 

"Even so," said Pantaleone. "Out of four one 
might have been spared me." 

"Ah, but then, Vincenzo who helped to carry you 
to bed is my lord's own body servant; Gianncne has 
his duties in the stables, and Andrea has gone down to 
the borgo on an errand for Madonna." 

"That makes but three, and you said there were 

"The fourth is Giuberti; but then Giuberti has van- 
ished; he disappeared a week ago." 

Pantaleone looked at the ceiling dreamily, reflect- 
ing how the vanishing of this Giuberti chanced to 
coincide with the vanishing of Matteo Orsini and 
wondering whether a link existed that would connect 
the two. 

"He was dismissed, you mean?" he grumbled. 

"I do not think so. It is a mystery. There was a 
great ado that morning here, and I have not seen Giu- 
berti since. But he has not been dismissed, for I have 
been to his room and his garments are all there. Nor 
did he leave Pievano, unless he went on foot, for there 
is no horse missing from the stables. On the contrary 
— and that is another mystery which none can solve 
for me — on the morning after Giuberti's disappear- 
ance I found seven horses in the stables instead of the 
usual six. I went there to count them that I might dis- 
cover whether Giuberti had gone away. As I set little 
faith in wizardry I am not prepared to accept the sim- 
ple explanation that Giuberti has been changed into a 


horse. Had it been an ass, now, I could have believed 
it — for no great metamorphosis would have been 
needed. But there it is: we have lost a biped and ac- 
quired a quadruped. An engaging mystery." 

Pantaleone's face showed nothing of the keenness 
with which he listened to this fresh piece of indirect 
information of the fugitive's presence at Pievano. He 
smiled lazily at the boy and encouraged him with 
flattery to let the stream of his chatter flow more 

"By the Host," he approved him, "although you 
may be no more than a lad you have a man's wit; in- 
deed, more wit than many a man that I have known. 
You should go far." 

The boy curled his green legs under him upon the 
bed, and smiled, well gratified. 

"You miss nothing," Pantaleone spurred him on. 

" Indeed, not much," the boy agreed. "And I could 
tell you more. For instance, it happens that Mario's 
wife has also disappeared. Mario is our castellan — 
he with the pock-marked face, who bore you to bed 
last night and bled you. Mario's wife had charge 
of the kitchen, and she vanished together with Giu- 
berti. Now that is a circumstance that intrigues me 

"It might intrigue you less if you were older," said 
Pantaleone, implying something which he did not 
himself believe, and implying it solely as a goad. 

RafFaele threw back his head, and considered the 
soldier with some scorn. 

"You said well when you said that I had more 
wit than many a man," he informed Pantaleone with 
pointed significance. "A man, of course, would blun- 


der here to a prompt and lewd conclusion. Bah, 
sir! I am a boy, not a cherub in a fresco. You have 
but to see Colomba — Mario's wife — to be assured 
of the chastity of her relations with Giuberti or with 
any man. You have seen Mario's lovely countenance, 
looking as if the devil had stamped on it with his hoofs 
and a red-hot horseshoe on each hoof. His wife's is 
even more uncomely, for she took the smallpox from 
him when he had it, which leaves them still the fit 
mates for each other that they were originally." 

"Precocious ape," said Pantaleone. "Your dis- 
course is a scandal to a poor soldier's ears. I'd have 
the rods to you if you were boy of mine." He flung 
back the bedclothes so that the lad was momentarily 
smothered in them, and rose to dress himself. He had 
learnt all that Raffaele could tell him. 

"It is the mystery of it all that intrigues me," bab- 
bled the page, unabashed. " Can you solve the riddle, 
Ser Pantaleone?" 

"I'll try," said Pantaleone struggling with his hose, 
but Raffaele for all his precocity missed the grimness 
of that answer. 

Thus, then, you see our adventurer in possession 
of certain facts that seemed to him tolerably clear: 
the disappearance of the groom, Giuberti, and of the 
woman, Colomba, synchronizing with the appearance 
of an additional horse in the stables and hence, pre- 
sumably, with the arrival at Pievano of Matteo Or- 
sini, indicated that the care of him had been entrusted 
to those two servants. Now, since, had Matteo Orsini 
remained in the castle itself, so much would have been 
unnecessary, it was further to be inferred that — no 
doubt for greater secrecy — he had been lodged else- 


where, though doubtless (and the presence of the 
horse confirmed this) somewhere within the precincts 
of the citadel. 

So far Ser Pantaleone was clear, and already he ac- 
counted the half of his task accomplished. His next 
step must be to ascertain what quarters outside the 
actual rocca the place contained. 

He dressed himself with care in the garments which 
the page had brought him from the kitchen, where 
they had been sedulously dried. Having no shoes he 
must perforce resume his boots, and since the weather 
was chill and he would presently be taking a turn 
out of doors, he buckled on his leather hacketon over 
his apricot-coloured doublet. Finally, with his long 
sword hanging from his steel girdle and a heavy dag- 
ger over his right hip, he made his way below, a hand- 
some cavalier, swaggering and arrogant of port, in 
whom it was scarcely possible to recognize the faint- 
ing, bedraggled fugitive that but yesternight had im- 
plored sanctuary of the Lord of Pievano. 

The pert Raffaele ushered him into the presence of 
Messer Almerico and Madonna Fulvia. They re- 
ceived him cordially, expressing genuine pleasure at 
his evident recovery. All hesitation and mistrust ap- 
peared to have vanished from the old man's demean- 
our, whence Ser Pantaleone inferred that meanwhile 
the Lord of Pievano had consulted with Matteo, and 
that Matteo had told him — since in fact no man 
could have denied it — that his story was very pos- 
sibly true, and that he had been friendly with Paolo 
Orsini as he said. Hence, superfluously now, the cir- 
cumstance of Matteo's presence was confirmed to him 
yet again. 


Intent upon his task, he would have gone forth at 
once claiming the need to take the air. But here the 
clay-faced Mario interposed with all the pompous 
authority of a medical adviser. 

"What, sir? Go forth — in your condition? It 
were a madness. Last night you had the fever, and 
you were bled. You must rest and recover, or I will 
not answer for your life." 

Pantaleone laughed — he had a deeply tuneful 
laugh that was readily provoked, for when he was not 
laughing with you he would laugh at you. He scorned 
the notion that he was weak or that the frosty air 
would injure him. Was not the sun shining? Was he 
not quite himself again? 

But Mario's opposition was nothing shaken, rather 
did it gather strength in argument. 

"Since it is to my skill that you owe it that you feel 
recovered, let my skill guide you when I say that the 
feeling is an illusion, a lightness ensuing upon the re- 
lief of an excess of blood which I have procured you. 
Forth you do not go save at your peril, at the peril of 
undoing all the good I have done." 

And then to Mario's persuasions were added those 
of Orsini and his daughter, until in the end, seeing 
that to insist further might be to awaken suspicions 
dormant now, Ser Pantaleone, chafing inwardly but 
still laughing outwardly, submitted. He spent the 
day indoors, and found the time hang heavily, despite 
the kindly efforts exerted by his host and his host's 
daughter to lighten it for him. 

The kindness which they lavished upon him, the 
fact that he sat at table and broke bread with them, 
made no slightest impression upon Ser Pantaleone. 


The hideous treachery of the thing he did, the vile- 
ness of the manner in which he had insinuated himself 
into their confidence, left him untouched. It was 
naught to him that he should sit there in Pievano re- 
ceiving the hospitality that is bestowed upon a friend. 

This Pantaleone was a man without sensibilities, 
an egotist with a brutally practical mind which har- 
boured no considerations but those of worldly ad- 
vancement. Honour to him was no more than one of 
the infirmities of vain men. Shame was a sentiment 
unknown to him. Macchiavelli might have honoured 
him for the fine singleness of purpose by which he was 
ever guided towards the given end in view. 

On the morrow at last he had his way, despite 
Mario's lingering doubts that it was unwise for him to 
go abroad. He would have taken the page with him 
for company, thinking that the chatterbox might be 
of service to him, but the excessive hospitality of Pie- 
vano ordained otherwise. Since he would not be de- 
nied his desire to take the air. Madonna Fulvia should 
be his guide. He protested that it was to do him too 
much — as indeed it was. Nevertheless she insisted, 
and together they went forth. 

The gardens of Pievano ran in a flight of terraces up 
the steep sides of the hill behind the castle, the whole 
of it enclosed by massive, grey, machicolated walls 
that had stood two hundred years and more, and re- 
sisted more than one siege in the past — though that 
was before the days of such artillery as Cesare Borgia 
now commanded. In summer these terraces were cool 
lemon groves and cooler galleries of vine; but now all 
was bare, a mere network of ramage to fret the Janu- 
ary sunshine. Yet there were spaces of green turf. 


whilst the mountain above them showed brightly em- 
erald where the snows had melted. Below them a 
little to the north was spread the shining face of Lake 

They came slowly to the topmost terrace — there 
were six of them in all, whence a fine view was to be 
commanded of all that broad valley. Here they found 
a sheltered spot under the western wall, where a seat 
hewn out of granite was set before a deep tank sunk to 
its rim into the ground — one of a series that were 
used in summer for irrigation purposes. Above the 
seat in a little semicircular niche there was a figure of 
the Virgin Mother in baked earth, painted red and 
blue, that had become mottled by alternate rain and 

Ser Pantaleone slipped his great red cloak from his 
shoulders, and spread it on the seat for his companion. 
She demurred awhile. Was he wise to sit, was not the 
air too chill, and was he not perhaps heated from his 
walk.'' Thus, shaping her tender solicitude in ques- 
tions, she warned him. But he reassured her with a 
buoyant laugh that made a mock of any assumption 
of weakness in his own condition. 

So side by side they sat on that hewn granite seat, 
beneath the image of the Virgin Mother above the 
granite tank where the water slept, a crystal mirror. 
So might a pair of lovers have sat; but if she had no 
thoughts of love for her companion — her devotion 
being all given to another, as we know — he had still 
less for her. 1 1 was not that he was usually sluggish to 
dalliance. Those full red lips of his told a different 
story, as Fra Serafino had observed. But, in the first 
place, his taste was all for generously hipped, deef>- 


bosomed Hebes, and in the second his thoughts were 
all concerned with the enucleation of this problem of 
Matteo Orsini's hiding-place. 

They commanded from that height a noble view of 
hills and valley, of lake and river, as we have seen. 
But with this again Ser Pantaleone was no whit con- 
cerned. His bold, black eyes were questing nearer 
home, raking the disposition of the outbuildings to 
the left of the rocca, and an odd pavilion on the other 
side occupying the middle of a quadrangular terrain 
that was all walled about so as to form, as it were, a 
hortus inclusus. 

He stretched his long, lithe legs, and took a deep 
breath of the clean mountain air, noisily like a 
draught that is relished. Then he sighed. 

"Heigh-o! If it were mine to choose my estate in 
life, I would be lord of some such lordship as this of 

"The ambition is a modest one," said she. 

"To have more is to have the power to work mis- 
chief, and who works mischief raises up enemies, and 
who raises up enemies goes in anxiety and may not 
know the pure joys of a contented life." 

"My father would agree with you. Such is his own 
philosophy. That is why he has lived ever here, nor 
ever troubled himself to strive for more." 

"He chose the better part, indeed," Ser Pantaleone 
agreed. "He has enough, and who has enough is 

"Ah, but whoever thinks that he has enough?" 

"Your father thought so, and so should I think 
were I lord of Pievano. To one in your station bearing 
your name it may seem no more than mediocrity. 


Compared with what might be yours mediocrity it is. 
Therein lies the secret of your happiness." 

"You make sure that I am happy," said she. 

He looked at her, and for a moment was in peril of 
straying into by-ways concerned with her own affairs. 
But he conquered this. 

"I were blind not to see it," he said in a tone of final- 
ity. "Though when I said 'you' I meant not only 
yourself, but your father also. And here lies cause 
enough. A noble lordship, commodious yet compact, 
the villeins in the borgo yonder paying tribute and 
fealty, the rocca itself with all accessory buildings 
close-packed under its mothering wing — saving per- 
haps that pavilion yonder in the enclosed garden," he 
excepted, waving his hand and speaking idly, giving 
no sign that thus at last, having reached it by slow 
and careful degrees, he came upon the goal which had 
been his since first he took his seat beside her. " That, 
now," he continued, musing, "is an odd construction. 
I cannot think for what purpose it can have been 

There was a question plainly in the statement, and 
at once she answered it. 

"It is a lazar-house," she said. 

Startled, Ser Pantaleone shifted uneasily, and there 
was no boldness now in the black eyes that stared 
at her. There was a sinister ring in the word that 
brought horrors leaping before the eyes of a man's im- 

"A lazar-house?" he said, aghast. 

She explained: "It happened in the days when my 
father was no more than a boy. There was the plague 
in Florence, and it was carried thither to the borgo. 


Men were dying like flies at close of autumn. To suc- 
cour them my grandfather ordered that pavilion to be 
built with others that have since been demolished, 
and he had the place enclosed by walls. There was a 
saintly minorite, one Fra Cristofero, who came to 
tend the plague-ridden, and who himself was miracu- 
lously preserved from the contagion." 

Ser Pantaleone twisted his features in a grimace of 

"And do you keep that as a monument in honour of 
so ugly an event?" he asked. 

"Why, no. There were other buildings there; but, 
as I have told you, they were demolished. That was 
the only one retained." 

"But why?" he asked. 

"It has its uses." 

He looked at her with raised eyebrows, expressing a 
faint incredulity. 

! "You will not tell me that it is tenanted?" he 
asked in a note that was faintly jesting. 

"No, no." 

She spoke too quickly, he noted; and her voice had 
trembled, whilst those deep loyal eyes of hers had 
fallen guiltily away from his regard. 

"No, no," she repeated. "Of course, it is not ten- 
anted now." 

He looked idly away towards the spot. She had 
lied to him, he was convinced already. Yet he would 
make assurance doubly sure. Suddenly he drew his 
legs under him and started half-rising with a sudden 
exclamation, his face averted from her and turned to- 
wards the enclosed garden. 

And then he felt her hand upon his sleeve. 


"What is it?" she asked, and her voice was breath- 

"Surely . . . surely, you are wrong," he said. "It is 
tenanted. It seemed to me that I saw something or 
some one move there in the shadow." 

"Oh, no, no — impossible! You were mistaken! 
There is no one there!" Agitation quivered in every 
syllable of that breathless denial. 

He had drawn from her the answer to the question 
he had not asked. Satisfied, he craftily made haste to 
reassure her. 

"Why, no," he said, and laughed in self-derision. 
"I see now what it is — the shadow of that gnarled 
olive deceived me." He looked at her, a smile on his 
full lips. "Alas!" he said. "You have laid what 
might have become the ghost of Fra . . . what was his 

"Of Fra Cristofero?" said she, and smiled back at 
him in her relief. But she rose. " Come, sir, you have 
sat here too long for one in your condition." 

"Long enough," said Pantaleone with more truth 
than she suspected, and he rose obediently to depart. 

It was as he said. He had sat there long enough to 
achieve his ends, and the very suddenness with which 
now she urged his departure was yet a further con- 
firmation of what he had discovered. She desired to 
draw him from that spot before he should chance, in- 
deed, to see what she believed him to have imagined 
he had seen. Very willingly, then, he went. 


A FOOL never doubts his judgment or questions 
its findings. He reaches a conclusion at a leap, 
and having reached it acts forthwith upon it. And 
that is why he is a fool. But your really astute fel- 
low moves more slowly and with caution, testing the 
ground at every step, mistrusting his inferences until 
he has exhausted confirmation of them. Even where 
he is swift to conclude, he will still be slow to act un- 
less urged by necessity to immediate action. 

Thus Pantaleone. He had added link to link until 
he held in his hands a fairly solid chain of circum- 
stantial evidence, from which he was entitled to infer, 
firstly — and this most positively — that Matteo Or- 
sini was sheltered at Pievano; secondly — and not 
quite so positively — that he was bestowed in the 
lazar-house in that hortus inclusus. 

A rash fellow would have summoned his men and 
forthwith stormed the place. But Pantaleone was not 
rash. He counted first the cost of error. He consid- 
ered that, in spite of all indications, it was yet possible 
that his quarry might not be in that lazar-house. And 
in that case did he take any such action he would find 
himself in the position of a gamester who, staking all 
upon a single throw, has seen the dice turn up ambs- 
ace. He would have discovered himself in his true 
character, and must submit to being driven forth in 
ignominy to bear his tale of failure to his master. 

Therefore, despite his stout convictions, Pantaleone 
waited and watched, what time he took his ease at 


Pievano and savoured the hospitality of the Lord Al- 
merico. He walked in the gardens with Madonna in 
the mornings, in the afternoon he would either permit 
Raffaele to teach him chess or repay these lessons by 
showing the golden-haired lad how to use a sword in 
conjunction with a dagger, and by what tricks — not 
tricks of swordsmanship, indeed, but of pure knavery 
— an adversary might be done to death; in the eve- 
nings he would converse with his host, which is to say 
that he would listen to the Lord Almerico's learned 
disquisitions upon life culled from the philosophy of 
Seneca or the teachings of Epictetus as preserved in 
the writings of Flavius Arrianus. 

Pantaleone, it must be confessed, was a little be- 
wildered and wearied by these discourses. A man 
with his full lips, and all the qualities those full lips 
implied, could find scant sense in the austere philos- 
ophy of the stoic, though he was faintly interested to 
observe the hold which that teaching had gained upon 
his host, and how his host appeared to have modelled 
the conduct of his life upon it, purchasing tranquillity 
as the stoic teaches. Although it was not thus that 
Pantaleone understood existence, yet he forbore argu- 
ment and feigned agreement, knowing in his crafty 
way that agreement with a man is the short road to 
his esteem and confidence. 

He earned, however, little discernible reward for all 
his patient pains. No such confidences as he hoped for 
were ever reposed in him. Matteo Orsini's name was 
never mentioned in his presence, and when once he 
mentioned it himself to speak in glowing praise of the 
man and in a proper sorrow at his reported death, he 
was met by a silence that showed him how far, indeed. 


he was, their amiability notwithstanding, from having 
earned their trust. And he had other signs of this. On 
more occasions than one his sudden coming into their 
presence was marked by as sudden an interruption of 
the conversation between them, and the ensuing of a 
constrained silence. 

Thus a week passed in which his mission made no 
progress, whereat he was beginning to grow restive, 
feeling that if his inaction endured much longer it 
might end by thrusting him into a rashness. No single 
shred of confirmation had his conclusions received, no 
single grain of independent evidence that the lazar- 
house was tenanted. And then, at last, one night as 
he was taking his way to bed lighted by RafFaele, who 
was now become his body-servant, he chanced upon a 
small discovery. 

His own room was over the rocca's vast courtyard, 
and commanded no other view but that. But as on 
his way to it he passed one of the windows of the 
gallery facing southward towards that hortus inclusus, 
and as idly he looked in that direction, he caught 
the yellow glint of a point of light that was moving 
towards it through the darkness. 

He was satisfied that what he did any man in his 
place would have done, and, therefore, that it could 
awaken no suspicion. He stood still, looking at that 
light a moment, and then drew the page's attention 
to it. 

" Some one is roving in the gardens very late," said 

RafFaele came to stand beside him, and pressed his 
face against the glass, the better to peer into the 


" It will be Mario," said the boy. " I saw him stand- 
ing by the door when I came up." 

"And what the devil does he do in the garden at 
such an hour.f* He can hardly be gathering snails at 
this season of the year." 

"Indeed, no," agreed Raffaele, clearly intrigued. 

"Ah, well," said Pantaleone, who perceived that he 
was wasting time, since Raffaele had no knowledge to 
betray. "It is no affair of ours." He yawned. "Come 
on, my lad, or I shall sleep where I stand." 

First he thought of alluding to the matter casually 
upon the morrow, watching the effect upon Almerico 
and his daughter. But sleep brought sounder counsels, 
and when the morrow came he held his peace. He 
walked as usual with Madonna in the garden, though 
never now on the upper terraces whence a view was 
obtained of the enclosure about the lazar-house. She 
had refused to repeat that visit of theirs to the gar- 
den's height, ever pleading that she found the ascent 
excessively fatiguing. 

Pantaleone habitually wore a tiny gold pomander 
ball, no larger than a cherry, suspended from his neck 
by a slender chain of gold. He wore it as usual that 
morning when they went forth together; but had 
Madonna observed him closely she would have 
noted that at a stage of their sauntering it van- 

Pantaleone remained apparently unconscious of its 
disappearance until towards the third hour of night — 
after they had supped and when it was usual for them 
to retire to bed, the hour, in fact, at which last night 
he had observed that mysterious light in the garden. 
Then it was that quite suddenly he leapt to his feet 


with an exclamation of dismay that provoked their 
concerned inquiries. 

"My pomander!" he cried, with all the airof aman 
whom some great mischance has overwhelmed. "I 
have lost it." 

My Lord Almerico recovered from his concern and 
smiled. He quoted the stoic. 

"In this life, my friend, we never lose anything. 
Sometimes we return a thing. That is the proper view. 
Why, then, all this concern about a pomander, a trifle 
that may be replaced by a ducat." 

"Should I be so concerned if that were all?" cried 
Pantaleone, with a faint show of impatience at the 
philosophy with which Orsini bore another's loss. 
"It was my talisman — a potent charm against the 
evil eye given me by my sainted mother. For her sake 
I hold it sacred. I would sooner lose all I have than 

It made a difference, Monna Fulvia agreed, ad- 
miring the filial piety he displayed; and even her 
father had no more to say. 

"Let me think, now; let me think," said Panta- 
leone, standing rapt, fingering the cleft in his shaven 
chin. " I had it this morning in the garden — at least 
I had it when I went forth. I . . . Yes!" He smote fist 
into palm. "It was in the garden — it must have 
been in the garden that I lost it." And without a by- 
your-leave to his host he swung to the page. 

"A lantern, Raffaele." 

"Were it not wiser to wait until daylight?" won- 
dered Almerico. 

"Sir, sir," cried Pantaleone wildly, "\ could not 
rest, I could not sleep in my suspense, in my un- 


certainty as to whether I shall recover it or not. I will 
hunt for it all night if need be." 

They attempted further to dissuade him, but before 
his wild insistence and his general air of distraction, 
they gave way, the old nobleman scarcely troubling to 
veil a sneer at superstitions that could take such po- 
tent hold upon a man. Since nothing less than to go 
forth at once would satisfy him, they bade RafFaele go 
with him, and whether this was a measure of kindly 
concern or whether of precaution, Pantaleone was by 
no means sure. 

Forth into the night sallied he and RafFaele, each 
armed with a lantern, and straight they went to the 
first terrace. With their double light they searched 
every foot of the long walk, all to no purpose. 

"Five ducats, Raffaele, if you find it," said Panta- 
leone. "Let us divide our forces; thus are we likely to 
shorten the search. Do you go up to the next terrace, 
and search that carefully, foot by foot. Five ducats 
if you find it." 

"Five ducats!" Raffaele was a little breathless. 
"Why, the thing isn't worth more than half a ducat!" 

"Nevertheless five shall you have if you find it me. 
I value it far above its price." 

Raffaele sped upwards with his lantern, leaving 
Pantaleone in the act of resuming his search over 
ground that had been covered already. The adven- 
turer waited until the sound of the lad's footsteps had 
grown distant and until from where he stood the 
other's light was no longer visible. Then he passed 
behind a stiff box hedge, that would screen his own 
light from any windows of the house, and there with- 
out more ado he extinguished it. That done he crossed 


the garden with as much speed as was consistent with 
his care to make no sound. By a clump of larches 
within a dozen paces of the wall of the enclosure he 
came to a halt, effaced himself among the trees, and 
waited, watchful and listening. 

Moments passed in utter silence. In the distance 
he could perceive the faint gleam of Raffaele's lantern 
moving at a snail's pace along the third terrace on the 
hillside. Raffaele he knew was safely engaged for the 
next hour. That promise of five ducats would sustain 
his patience against failure. Whilst any who might be 
spying from the house would be able to make out no 
more than a glimmer of light up yonder, and would 
suppose that Raffaele and himself were engaged to- 

Reassured on that score, then, Pantaleone was 
patient on his side, and waited. Nor was his patience 
sorely taxed. Some ten minutes or so after he had 
gained his point of observation, he heard the creaking 
of a door, and from the postern in the inner barbican 
he beheld the gleam of another lantern. It advanced 
swiftly towards him — for a pathway ran beside the 
larches — and presently there came the sound of feet. 
Soon Pantaleone could discern the figure of a man 
faintly outlined against the all-pervading gloom. 

Immovable he stood screened by the larches, un- 
seen yet observing. The figure advanced; it passed so 
closely by him that by putting forth his arm he might 
have touched it. He recognized the livid, pock- 
marked face of the castellan, and he noted that the 
fellow carried a basket slung on the crook of his left 
arm. He caught the faint gleam of napery atop of it, 
and thrusting forth from this the neck of a wine-flask. 


The man passed on, and reached the wall. A green 
door was set in it just thereabouts, and Pantaleone 
was prepared to see him vanish through, preparing, 
indeed, to follow. Instead, however, Mario paused at 
the wall's foot some ten paces away from that door, 
and Pantaleone caught the sound of hands softly 
clapped, and a voice softly calling: 

"Are you there, Colomba?" 

Instantly from beyond the wall floated the answer 
in a woman's voice: 

"I am here." 

What followed was none so distinct, and asked for 
guesswork on Pantaleone's part. Partly he saw and 
partly inferred that Mario had taken a ladder that lay 
at the wall's foot, set it against the wall, mounted it, 
and from the summit slung down his basket to his wife 
within the enclosure. 

That was all. The thing being done, Mario de- 
scended again, removed the ladder, and returned un- 
encumbered now and moving swiftly. 

Pantaleone found his every suspicion confirmed. 
As he had supposed, Colomba and the groom Giuberti 
were ministering to the concealed Matteo Orsini, 
whose food was borne to him thus in the night by 
Mario — and no doubt in the raw, to be cooked and 
prepared by Mario's wife — so that none in Pievano 
should share the secret with those who already and 
perforce were in possession of it. 

All this was clear as daylight. But on the other 
hand, the affair had its dark and mysterious side. 
Why should Mario employ a ladder to scale a wall 
when there was a door there ready to his hand. It 
was very odd, but it was some detail of precaution, 


he supposed, and dismissed the matter with that ex- 

Moreover, something was happening that suddenly 
drew his attention to himself and his own position. 
Mario, instead of returning to the house, had paused 
midway a moment, as if hesitating, and then had 
struck across the gardens towards the light that 
marked the spot where Raffaele hunted. 

Now this to Messer Pantaleone was a serious mat- 
ter. It might, unless he were careful, lead to the dis- 
covery of his own real pursuits. He came forth from 
his concealment and very softly set himself to follow 
Mario. Thus as far as the second terrace. Then, as 
Mario still went on upwards, Pantaleone turned 
quickly away to the right, thus returning to the very 
spot where he had extinguished his lantern. Arrived 
there, he turned and came running back shouting as 
he ran: 

"Raffaele! Raffaele!" 

He saw the swinging lantern of Mario arrested in 
its progress, and a moment later farther along the 
upper terrace gleamed Raffaele's light, as the boy 
approached the edge in answer to that summons. 

" I have found it!" cried Pantaleone, as indeed he 
had found it — in his pocket where it had been safely 

"I have found it . . . found it!" he repeated on a 
note of ridiculous triumph, as if he were Columbus 
announcing that he had found the New World. 

He advanced to the foot of the flight of steps that 
led upward, and there he awaited them. 

"You have found it?" quoth Raffaele, crestfallen. 

Pantaleone dangled it aloft by the chain. 


"Behold!" he said, and added — "but you shall 
have a ducat for your pains, none the less. So comfort 

" Did you find it in the dark ? " It was Mario's voice 
that growled the question, and Pantaleone was quick 
to catch the note of suspicion running through it. 

"Fool," he answered, preferring to take him liter- 
ally. "How could I have found it in the dark? I up- 
set my lantern in my excitement." 

Mario was scanning his face closely. 

"It is very odd," said he, " that as I came this way 
I saw no light." 

"I was beyond the hedge yonder. That may have 
screened it," Pantaleone explained, and added no 
word more, for he knew that who explains himself too 
much accuses himself. 

They trooped back to the house together; Raffaele 
silenced by his disappointment, Mario thoughtful 
and suspicious of all this ado, Pantaleone babbling 
naively in his delight at the recovery of his precious 
amulet, and recounting the circumstances under 
which his mother had set it round his neck, with what 
words she had enjoined him to keep it safe, and 
against what dreadful perils it had been his shield — 
all lies that came bubbling from his fertile mind like 
water from a spring. 

But despite all this, when at length he came to bid 
good-night to Mario, he saw that clay-coloured face 
grimly set in lines of mistrust. 

He went thoughtfully to bed in consequence. He 
lay awake some time considering his discovery and 
considering still more deeply that part of it which left 
him mystified. At another time he might have de- 


layed his action until he had cleared that up. But 
here he decided that to delay further might be danger- 
ous. He told himself again that he had discovered all 
that mattered, and he fell asleep promising himself 
that upon the morrow he would act upon that dis- 
covery and lay Messer Matteo Orsini snugly by the 

THE manner adopted by Messer Pantaleone in 
which to do the thing he had been sent to do was 
startling and yet precisely such as was to have been 
looked for in a man of his temper. 

He had been that day — the day following upon 
the affair of the lost amulet — down into the borgo 
of Pievano for the first time since his coming to the 
castle. As a pretext for this he had urged the need 
to mend the leg of one of his boots which had become 
torn during his search last night. (Himself he had 
ripped it with his dagger.) 

He had made his way in the first place to a cobbler, 
with whom perforce he remained until the required 
repairs had been effected. From the cobbler's he went 
to the Osteria del Orso, ostensibly to refresh himself, 
actually to issue his orders to his knaves through the 
one he had posted there. It resulted from these 
movements of his that as dusk was falling his ten sbirri 
wandered singly and unchallenged over the draw- 
bridge into the empty courtyard of the castle. No 
guards were kept at Pievano, as we know, and so this 
furtive and piecemeal invasion was neither hindered 
nor yet so much as observed. 

When he had assured himself that these knaves 
of his were at hand, Messer Pantaleone, armed, 
booted, spurred, cap in hand, and wrapped in his 
ample red cloak — obviously ready to take the road 
forthwith — strode into the hall of the rocca, that 
noble chamber where a week ago he had been so 


charitably received. Now, as then, he found the Lord 
Almerico engrossed in a volume of manuscript, and 
Madonna Fulvia with him. 

They looked up sharply, inexplicably startled by 
the manner of his advent. There was a subtle change 
in his air. It was more arrogant and self-assertive than 
usual; here was no longer the guest with just so much 
swagger as was inseparable from a soldier of fortune, 
but one who seemed to come mantled in authority. 
He did not long intrigue them. 

"My lord," he announced bluntly, "I have a duty 
to perform and ten stout fellows below to help me 
against the need of help. Will you summon your 
nephew Matteo Orsini who is hiding here?" 

They stared at him in utter silence, whilst for as 
long as it would take a man to say a paternoster. 
They were like people stupefied. Then at last the girl 
spoke, her brows contracted, her eyes flashing like 
sombre jewels in her white face. 

"What is your purpose with Matteo?" 

"The Ix)rd Cesare Borgia's purpose," he answered 
brutally. The mask of guile having served its turn 
was now discarded, and there was no tinge of shame 
upon the uncovered face of his real self which he now 
showed them. " I was sent hither to arrest Ser Matteo 
by order of the Duke." 

Again there fell a pause, what time those four eyes 
searched his bold countenance. The Lord Almerico 
closed his book upon his forefinger, and a faint yet 
intensely scornful smile broke upon the grey old face. 

"Then," said Madonna Fulvia, "all this time 
we ... we have been your dupes. You lied to us. 
Your faintness, the persecution of which you were the 


victim, was all so much pretence?" There was a note 
of incredulity in her voice. 

"Necessity," he reminded her, "knows no law." 
And although he was neither shamed nor daunted 
by their steadfast, scornful stare, yet he grew weary 
of it. "Come," he added roughly. "You have had 
your fill of looking at me. Let us get to business. 
Send for this traitor you are harbouring." 

Madonna Fulvia drew herself stiffly up. " My God !" 
she exclaimed. "A base Judas, a dirty spy! And I 
have sat at table with you. We have housed you here 
as an equal." Her voice soared upwards, from the 
low note of horror and disgust upon which she had 
spoken. " O vile, O pitiful dog 1 " she cried. " Was this 
your errand? Was this ..." 

Her father's hand fell gently upon her arm, and 
silenced her by its mute command. The stoic in him 
was equal even to so bitter an occasion. It was not for 
nothing that he had assimilated the wisdom of the 

"Hush, child, self-respect forbids that you should 
address so base a creature even to upbraid it." His 
voice was calm and level. "What is it to you that 
he is vile and treacherous, a shameless thing of 
shame? Does that hurt you? Does it hurt any but 

It did not seem to her to be a time for stoicisms. 
She swung upon her father in a blaze of passion. 

"Aye, does it hurt me," she cried. "It hurts me 
and it hurts Matteo." 

"Can it really hurt a man to die?" wondered Al- 
merico. " Matteo being dead, shall yet live. But that 
poor thing being living is yet dead." 


"Shall we come to business?" quoth Pantaleone, 
breaking in upon what promised to develop into an 
eloquent discourse upon life and death, chiefly derived 
from Seneca. "Will you send for Matteo Orsini, or 
shall I bid my men drag him from the lazar-house 
where he skulks. It is idle to resist, futile to delay. 
My knaves have hemmed the place about, and none 
goes in or out save at my pleasure." 

He saw a change of expression sweep across both 
faces. The girl's eyes dilated — with fear, as he sup- 
posed; the old man uttered a short, sharp laugh — of 
stoicism, he opined. 

"Why, sir," said Almerico, "since you are so well 
informed, you had best yourself complete your task 
of infamy." 

Pantaleone looked at him a moment, and then 

" Be it so," he said shortly, and swung upon his heel 
to go about it. 

"No, no!" It was Madonna Fulvia who arrested 
him with that cry, sharp with a new anxiety. "Wait, 
sir! Wait!" 

He paused obediently, and half-turned. He beheld 
her standing tense and straight, one hand pressed 
upon her bosom as if to quell its tumult, the other held 
out to him in a gesture of supplication. 

"Give me leave to speak with my father alone, ere 
. . . ere we decide," she panted. 

Pantaleone sniffed, and raised his eyebrows. 

"Decide?" quoth he. "What remains to be de- 

She wrung her hands in a pathetic intensity of 
mental stress. 


"We ... we may have a proposal to make to you, 

"A proposal?" He said, and scowled. Did they 
seek to bribe him ? " By the Host ..." he began hotly, 
and there checked. The cupidity of his nature leapt 
up instantly, aroused and alert. After all, he be- 
thought him, there would be no harm in hearing this 
proposal. The man is a fool who neglects to learn 
anything from which he may cull personal advantage. 
He considered further. After all, none save himself 
was aware of Matteo Orsini's presence at Pievano, 
and if the price were high enough — who knew? — 
he might be induced to keep that knowledge to him- 
self. But the price must needs be high to compensate 
him, not only for the loss of the thousand ducats 
offered by the Duke, but for the hurt his vanity would 
suffer in the admission of failure. 

Seeing him silent, and conceiving that he hesitated. 
Madonna renewed her prayer. "What harm can it do 
to grant me this?" she asked. "Have you not said 
yourself that the place is hemmed about by your men? 
Are you not therefore master of the situation?" 

He bowed stiffly. 

"I will concede it you," he said. "I shall await 
your pleasure in the antechamber." And upon that 
he went out, his spurs jingling musically. 

Left alone, father and daughter looked long at each 

"Why did you hinder him?" asked the Lord of 
Pievano at length. "Surely you were not moved by 
any thought of pity for such a man?" 

Her lip curled in a scornful smile. "You cannot 
think that — not in your heart," she said. 


** It is because I cannot think it that I ask. I am all 

"Had we allowed him to go, consider what in his 
vengeance he might have done. He might have sum- 
moned these men of his, and ransacked the rocca 
until he discovered Matteo indeed." 

"But surely that must inevitably follow now. 
How can we prevent it?" 

She leaned towards him. "To what purpose do you 
study so deeply the lore of human nature if in practice 
you cannot probe the shallow, murky depth of such a 
nature as this dog's?" 

He shrank back, staring at her, feeling that his 
philosophy had taught him nothing, indeed, if in an 
extremity such as the present one, this child could 
show him how it should be handled. 

" Do you not know — does it not say so in any of 
those pages — that who betrays once, will betray 
again and yet again? Do you not see that a man so 
vile as to have played that knave's part will be vile 
enough to sell his own master, will be true to naught 
save his own base interests?" 

"You mean that we should bribe him?" 

She drew herself up, and uttered a short laugh. 
"I mean that we should seem to bribe him. Oh!" 
She pressed her hands to her white brow. " I have a 
vision of something that lies before us here. It is as if 
a door had been opened, a weapon thrust into my 
hand by means of which I can smite and at a blow 
avenge all the wrongs of the Orsini." 

" Pish, you are fevered, child ! Here is no work for a 
weak maid ..." 

"Not for a weak maid — no; but for a strong one. 


she broke in impetuously; "work for a woman of 
the Orsini. Listen." She leaned towards him again, 
lowering her voice instinctively because of the secret 
thing she had to communicate. Speaking quickly now 
she expounded the whole plan that had flashed into 
her ready-witted mind, a plan complete in its every 
detail, a chain whose every link was soundly forged. 

He listened, hunched in his chair, and the farther 
she proceeded the more hunched he became, like one 
who instinctively gathers himself together against a 
blow that is about to fall. 

"My God!" he gasped when she had done, and his 
old eyes stared at her between amazement and dis- 
may. "My God! And your pure virgin mind has 
conceived this horror! In all these years I have not 
known you, Fulvia. I have deemed you a child, and 
you ..." Words eluded him. Limply he waved his 
old transparent hands. The stoic in him had suc- 
cumbed to the parent. 

He would have dissuaded her out of his deep con- 
cern for her, his only child. But she was not to be 
dissuaded. She argued on, gathering enthusiasm as 
she dwelt upon the means by which she would at a 
single blow strike down this base betrayer and his 
master the Duke of Valentinois. She urged that there 
was no safety for her or him or any Orsini in her re- 
fraining from this step upon which she was resolved. 
She reminded him that as long as Cesare Borgia lived 
no single Orsini would be safe, and she concluded by 
announcing that she believed her mission inspired by 
Heaven itself, that she a maid and the weakest of the 
Orsini should avenge the wrongs of their house and 
stay its further ruin. 


At last his shocked, bruised mind became infected 
by something of her ardour; enough, at least, to 
wring from him a grudging, fearful consent to let her 
have her way. 

"Leave me," she said, " to deal with Cesare Borgia 
and his lackey, and do you pray for the souls of both." 

Upon that she kissed him, and swept out to the 
impatient Pantaleone waiting in the sparsely fur- 
nished antechamber. 

He was seated in a high-backed chair by a carved 
table that bore a cluster of candles in a silver branch. 
He rose as she entered, marking her pallor and ob- 
vious agitation. To the stately beauty of her, her 
slim height and the fine poise of her lovely head, he 
remained indifferent. 

She came to lean against the table, facing him 
across it, considering him with a glance that was 
steady despite the tremors agitating all the rest of her. 

Pantaleone was shrewd and crafty as we know, 
but his craft was a shallow business when compared 
with her own; his shrewdness was mere low cunning 
when contrasted with the agile wits which her frail 
exterior dissembled. 

In the moment in which he had revealed himself 
for what he was she had judged him, and she had 
judged him to the weight of a hair of his vile head. 
Upon that judgment she now went to work. 

"Consider me well, Ser Pantaleone," she invited 
him, her voice level and calm. 

He did so, wondering whither this might lead. 

"Tell me now, do you not find me fair to see, and 
am I not shapely?" 

He bowed, his face almost sardonic. "Fair as an 


angel, assuredly, Madonna. The Duke's own sister, 
Monna Lucrezia, would suffer by comparison. But 
what has this to do with . . .?" 

"In short, sir, do you account me desirable?" 

The question robbed him of breath, so amazing was 
it. It was a moment ere he found an answer, and by 
then the sardonic smile had passed entirely from his 
face. His pulses were quickened under her steady 
glance and her no less steady invitation to appraise 
her. He pondered her now, and discovered a thousand 
graces in her to which he had hitherto been blind. He 
may even have realized that her chaste, frail beauty 
held a subtler appeal than the grosser femininity to 
which his senses more usually responded. 

" Desirable as Paradise," said he at last, dropping 
his voice. 

"And to render me so, there is not merely this 
perishable beauty that is mine. I am well dowered." 

"It is fitting that so noble a jewel should be nobly 
set." In his mind stirred now some inkling of whither 
she was leading him, and his pulses throbbed the 

"A matter of ten thousand ducats goes with me to 
the man I wed," she informed him, and turned him 
giddy by the mention of so vast a sum. 

"Ten thousand ducats.''" he repeated slowly, awe- 

"To the man who weds me," she insisted, and added 
quietly — "Will you be that man?" 

"Willi...?" He checked. No, no. The thing was 
incredible. The shock of that question almost stunned 
him. He gaped at her, and his handsome face turned 
pale under its tan. 


"Upon the condition, of course," she pursued, 
"that you abandon this quest for Ser Matteo, and 
bear word to your master that he is not to be 

"Of course, of course," he mumbled foolishly. 
Then he reassembled his scattered wits and set them 
to read him this riddle. She was Matteo's betrothed. 
She loved Matteo. And yet ... Or could it be that 
her love was of that great self-sacrificing kind of which 
he had heard — but in which he had never believed — 
that will surrender all for the sake of the beloved.^ He 
could not swallow that. It was not in his nature to be 
so credulous. And then he threw up his head, his 
nostrils quivering. Suddenly he scented danger. A 
trap was being baited for him. Bluntly he said so, 
laughing short and scornfully. 

But her reply disarmed his last suspicion. 

"Take your own measures," she invited him se- 
renely. "I understand your fears. But we are hon- 
ourable folk, and if I swear to you that Matteo Or- 
sini shall not stir him hence until this matter is done 
beyond recalling, so shall it be. Yet take your meas- 
ures. You have the men and the power. Let them 
remain at their post surrounding that garden. Do 
that to-night, and to-morrow I will ride with you to 
Castel della Pieve to become your wife." 

Slowly he licked his lips, and his bold eyes narrowed 
as they surveyed her greedily. Yet still he was sus- 
picious. Still he could not believe in so much good 

"Why at Castel della Pieve?" he asked. "Why not 

"Because I must be sure that you will keep faith. 


Castel della Pieve is the nearest place — yet far 
enough to leave Matteo a clear road of flight." 

"I understand," he said slowly. 

"And you agree?" 

His keen black eyes stabbed into her calm white 
face as though they would pierce to her very soul and 
probe its secrets. It was incredible. To have fortune 
thrust upon him thus, fortune and a wife, and such a 
wife; for in his eyes she was growing more desirable 
moment by moment as he considered her. Had not 
Fra Serafino warned the Duke that this man would be 
as wax in the hands of a woman? 

What greater profit — what profit one tenth as 
great could he look for in taking Ser Matteo, in keep- 
ing faith with Valentinois? He made, you see, no 
attempt to struggle with the temptation. He did not 
give so much as a thought to a young woman in the 
Bolognese — one Leocadia by name — who kept a 
wine-shop at Laveno, who had borne him a son and 
whom he had promised to marry. But all that had 
happened before he had risen to the rank of a con- 
dottiero and earned the regard and trust of Cesare 
Borgia; and of late in his newfound importance it had 
shrunk into a dim and distant background. It did not 
trouble him now. If he hesitated, it was only because 
the thing proposed him was beyond belief. It be- 
wildered him; a fog settled down upon his wits. By 
the Host! How she must love this fellow Matteo! Or 
was it — was it perhaps that he himself . . . 

Now here was a possibility hitherto unregarded; 
here something that might explain her singular at- 
titude towards him. In saving Matteo she per- 
formed a duty, and by the very manner of it placed 


a barrier between herself and a lover of whom she 
had wearied. 

Thus his vanity to complete the rout of his per- 
spicuity, to convince him where cold reason failed. 

"Agree?" he cried after that long pause. "Agree? 
By the Eyes of God! Am I a wooden image, or a 
purblind fool to refuse? I'll set a seal forthwith upon 
that contract." And with arms flung wide he swooped 
down upon her like a hawk upon a dove, and caught 
her to him. 

She suffered it, stiff and cold with sudden terror 
and repressed loathing. He held her close and mut- 
tered foolish fondnesses. Then the awakened passion 
mounting, it became suffused with tenderness, and he 
told her of a future in which he should be the slave of 
her slightest whim, her devout and worshipping lover 

At length she released herself from those lithe arms, 
and drew away from him, a hectic spot on either 
cheek, deep shame in her soul and a sense of defilement 
pervading all her being. He watched her, abashed a 
little, mistrustful even. 

But when she had gained the door she paused, and 
there for an instant her iciness melted. Her laugh 
trilled softly across the chamber to him. 

"To-morrow!" she flung at him, and vanished 
leaving him distracted. 


PERPLEXED, yet true to his adventurer's char- 
acter, determined to follow his fortunes and accept 
such chances as there might be, Pantaleone took his 
measures against possible treachery, posted his men for 
the night so as to make quite certain that his prey did 
not escape until Madonna Fulvia and himself should 
be on their way to the nuptials, and that done went 
to bed to dream of a roseate future ennobled by ten 
thousand ducats. 

It is the test of your true adventurer in all ages and 
of all kinds that ducats are with him the sole standard 
of nobility. A man may pawn his honour, pledge his 
proper pride, and sell his immortal soul, so that he 
drives a good bargain in the matter of ducats. Thus it 
was with Pantaleone. Unless you are yourself one of 
those who measure worth — your own or another's — 
by ducats, you will pity a little this man who set such 
store by profit. For the thousand ducats offered him 
by the Duke he had consented to act the part of a 
Judas and a traitor. For the ten thousand ducats now 
dangled before his eyes he was ready to betray the 
hand that had hired him; and the sad part of it all 
is that he was convinced he did a shrewd and clever 
thing. That is why I invite your pity for him. He 
needs it both in this and in what is to follow out of it. 
Had he realized his baseness, he would have been just 
a villain. But far from it, since his baseness brought 
him profit he accounted himself a clever and deserving 
man. He was a true product of his age, and yet his 
kind has existed multitudinously in all ages. 


Whilst he dreamt his aureate dreams, Madonna 
Fulvia below stairs was planning his destruction and 
another's. She indited a note, calculatedly enigmatic 
and brief that it might provoke curiosity and through 
this the response which she desired. She couched it 
in an odd mixture of curial Latin and the common 
language of the people. 

Magnificent {Magnifice Vir)^ — You are betrayed by one 
whom you hired to a betrayal. Before the Duomo of Castel 
della Pieve punctually at high noon to-morrow I will afford 
you proof of it if your Illustrious Magnificence is pleased to 
be there to receive it. 

Your Servant {Servitrix vestra) 

Fulvia Orsini 
From the Rocca of Pievano this 20th day of January, 1503. 

And under her signature she added the two words 
"Manu propria," which her self-respect seemed to 
demand of her. Then came the superscription: 

To the Illustrious Prince, the Duke of Valentinois these 


■ As she shook the pounce over the wet ink, she called 
Raffaele, who lay prone upon an Eastern rug before 
the fire, kicking his heels in the air. Instantly he leapt 
to her summons. 

She set her hands upon his shoulders, and looked 
steadily into his lovely face. 

"Will you do a man's work for me, RafFaele? I 
have need of a man, and there is none here whom I 
can spare. Will you ride to-night to Cesare Borgia's 
camp at Castel della Pieve with this letter?" 


* " If that be all that is needed to prove myself a man, 
account it proven," said he. 

"Good lad! Dear lad! Now, listen. There may be 
spies about the gate, and so it were best you went 
forth on foot from here. If you can slip out unseen, 
it will be better still. Then go down into the borgo to 
the house of Villanelli. Bid him lend you a horse for 
my service, but say no word even to him of whither 
you ride. Be circumspect and swift." 

"Trust me. Madonna," said the lad, slipping the 
letter into the breast of his doublet. 

" I do, else I should not charge you with this mes- 
sage. God watch over you ! Send Mario to me as you 

He went forthwith, and soon came Mario in answer 
to her summons. 

"How is it with Giuberti to-night?" she asked the 
seneschal as he entered. 

He shrugged despondently. "I doubt if the poor 
fellow will be alive by morning," he answered. 

Her face was drawn and grave, her eyes sad. "Poor 
lad!" she said. "Is the end indeed so near?" 

"A miracle might save him. Nothing less. But 
miracles do not happen now." 

She paced slowly to the hearth, her face thoughtful, 
her eyes bent upon the ground. Thus she stood for a 
long moment, Mario waiting. 

"Mario," she said at last, speaking very quietly, 
" there is a service I require of you this night — of you 
and Colomba." 

"We are yours to command. Madonna," he re- 

Yet when she had told him what the service was 


she saw him recoil, aghast, horror stamped upon that 
face which the ravages of disease had made so horrible. 

At that she fell to pleading with him, and with a 
burning eloquence she set forth the wrongs her House 
had suffered, spoke of the Orsini blood that had been 
shed to gratify Borgian ambition and to satiate Bor- 
gian vengeance, and so in the end won him to her will. 

"Be it so, then. Madonna, since you desire it," he 
said, but he shuddered even as he spoke. "Have you 
the letter written?" 

"Not yet. Come to me again soon, and it shall be 

In silence he departed, and she returned to the 
writing-pulpit. For a while she could not write, such 
was the tremor of her hand as a consequence of the 
agitation her interview with Mario had produced in 
her. Presently, however, she recovered her self-con- 
trol, and thereafter for a spell there was no sound in 
the chamber, save the occasional splutter and crackle 
of the burning logs and the scratch of her busy quill. 

Mario returned before she had finished, and stood 
waiting patiently until, rising, she flung down her pen, 
and proffered him the accomplished document. 

"You understand?" she said. 

" I understand. Madonna. God knows it is simple 
— terribly simple." And he looked at her with eyes of 
sorrow, conveying by his glance that what he found 
so terrible was that one so young and lovely should 
have conceived a notion so diabolical as this in which 
she had besought his aid. 

"And you will instruct Colomba carefully so that 
there is no mistake." 

"There will be none," he promised. "I have the 


cane, and I myself will prepare it. A thorn is easily 

" Let me have it, then, at daybreak. Bring it to my 
chamber. You will find me risen, and ready for a 

At that he was gripped by a fresh alarm. "You are 
not yourself to be the bearer of it?" he cried out. 

"Whom else?" she asked him. "Could I demand 
such a service of any other?" 

" Gesu ! " he wailed. " Does my lord know of this ? " 

"Something of it. Enough of it. Not a word more 
now, Mario. Away with you, and see it done." 

"Ah, but consider, Madonna, what you risk! Con- 
sider, Madonna, I beseech you." 

"I have considered. I am an Orsini. Orsini have 
been strangled at Assisi, others are gaoled in Rome. 
Matteo's life is sought by this insatiable monster of 
revenge. I go there both to save and to avenge. I shall 
not fail." 

"Ah, but, Madonna mine . . ." he began, his voice 
quavering, tears of intercession gathering in his 

"No more, as you love me, Mario. Do my will. 
You cannot alter it." 

The tone invested with a stern inflexibility that 
never before had he known in her — and he had 
known her from her very birth — made an end of his 
protests. She was the mistress, he the servant, al- 
most the slave, owing unquestioning obedience. And 
so Mario, heavy-hearted, went his ways to do as she 
commanded, whilst she followed soon thereafter to 
seek what sleep she could, and in that sleep the 
strength to perform the task that lay before her. 


The morning found her pale but calm when she 
came to confront her bridegroom in the hall. 

The Lord of Pievano kept his chamber. Not all his 
stoicism was equal to the ordeal of sitting down to 
meat again with such a thing as Pantaleone, or wit- 
nessing the humiliation to which his daughter was to 
subject herself. However much he might esteem the 
end in view — since he was an Orsini before being a 
philosopher — he abhorred the means, and took the 
course of refusing them his countenance, and re- 
maining passive. Yet — in justice to him be it said 
— of a certainty he would not have remained so had 
he known her full intent. A part of it only had she 
revealed to him. 

Pantaleone was tortured between elation at the ex- 
traordinary good fortune that had so unexpectedly 
been flung into his lap and an irrepressible misgiving, 
an incredulity, a doubt as to its genuineness. Some- 
thing of this was reflected in his glance as he came now 
into her presence. It had lost much of its habit- 
ual arrogant confidence; it seemed even a little 

He crossed to her, swaggering, since to swagger was 
natural to him; but there was none of the air of pro- 
prietorship that naturally was to be looked for in such 
a man towards the woman whom he had won to wife. 
Indeed, it was almost with humility that he took her 
hand, and bore it to his lips, she sufi^ering it in the 
same icy detachment in which last night she had suf- 
fered his terrible embrace. 

They sat down to table to break their fast, with 
none to wait upon them but the silent, sphinx-like 
Mario. Even Raflfaele was absent, and Pantaleone 


had missed the pert lad's ministrations on that morn- 
ing of mornings. 

He commented upon this, as much to ease the in- 
creasing strain of their silence as because he desired 
to know what had become of the page. Madonna 
excused the boy, saying that he was none so well and 
kept his bed. The truth was that he had but sought 
it a half-hour ago, upon his return from his ride to 
Castel della Pieve and the safe delivery of his letter. 

They set out soon after, and took the road by the 
marsh towards Castel della Pieve. With them went 
Pantaleone's ten knaves, and Mario as Madonna's 
equerry by her insistence. Pantaleone disliked and 
mistrusted the silent, clay-faced servant and would 
gladly have been rid of his presence. Yet he deemed 
it wise to humour her at least until a priest should 
have given her fully into his possession. 

As they cantered briskly forward in the bright sun- 
shine of that January morning, and the miles were 
flung behind them, Pantaleone's spirits rose, and con- 
quered his last misgiving. Of treachery he had now no 
shadow of fear. Had she not delivered herself up to 
him? Were they not surrounded by men of his own.? 
And must not the ducats and the rest follow as in- 
evitably as the rising of to-morrow's sun? In this 
assurance he attempted to play the gallant, as befits a 
bridegroom; but he found her cold and haughty and 
reserved, and when he remonstrated, pointing out that 
she did not use him at all like one who was to be her 
husband by noontide, she retorted with a reminder 
that between them was naught but a bargain that had 
been struck. 

This chilled him, and for a while he rode amain 


sulkily, with bent head and furrowed brows. But 
that soon passed. His abiding humour was too buoy- 
ant to suffer any permanent overclouding. Let her 
be as cold as ice at present. Anon he would know 
how to kindle her into living woman. He had so 
kindled a many in his day, and he was confident of 
his natural gifts in that direction. Not that it would 
greatly matter if she were to remain proof against his 
ardour. There were her ducats for ample consolation, 
and with her ducats he might procure elsewhere an 
abundance of the tenderness that she denied him. 

They toiled up a gentle hill, and then from its sum- 
mit the gleaming, ruddy roofs of Castel della Pieve 
broke at last upon their view, some two leagues 
distant. It wanted yet an hour to noon, and if they 
maintained their present pace they would arrive too 
soon for Madonna's schemes. Therefore she now de- 
layed by slackening her pace a little, pleading fatigue 
OS a result of a ride that was something arduous for 
one so little used to the saddle. And she contrived so 
well that noon was striking from the Duomo as they 
rode under the deep archway of the Porta Pia and 
entered the town. ,-■■ 


THE Duke*s army was encamped upon the east- 
ern side of the city, so that Pantaleone had no 
inkling of his master's presence there until they had 
entered the main street and saw the abundant evi- 
dences of it in the soldiers that thronged everywhere 
chattering in all the dialects of Middle Italy. The 
part he had played at Pievano had so isolated Pan- 
taleone from the outside world, that he had remained 
without precise knowledge of Cesare Borgia's where- 
abouts. His sudden realization that he had ridden 
almost into the very presence of the Duke was as a 
shower of cold water upon his heated body. For you 
will understand that engaged as he was he had every 
reason to avoid the Duke as he would avoid the Devil. 

He reined in sharply, and his eyes glared mistrust- 
fully at Madonna, instinctively feeling that here was 
some trap into which like a fool he had been lured by 
this white-faced girl. It flashed across his mind that 
it had been his lifelong practice to mistrust lean 
women. Their very leanness was in his eyes an out- 
ward sign of their lack of femininity, and a woman 
that lacks femininity — as all the world knows — is 
as often as not a very devil. 

"By your leave. Madonna," said he grimly, "we 
will seek a priest elsewhere." 

"Why so?" she asked. 

"Because it is my will," he snarled back. 

She smiled a crooked little smile. She was calm and 
mistress of herself. 


"It is early yet to impose your will upon me, and if 
you are over-insistent now, perhaps you never shall 
— for I marry you at Castel della Pieve or I do not 
marry you at all." 

He looked at her, blenching with anger. "God's 
Blood!" he swore, and gave tongue to that thought of 
his. "I never yet knew a lean woman that was not 
sly and a very bag of devil's tricks. What is in that 
mind of yours?" 

And then suddenly a hoarse voice hailed him, and 
from among the passers-by there rolled forward a 
grizzled veteran upon sturdy bowed legs, a swarthy, 
one-eyed fellow, who creaked and clanked as he 
walked, being all mail and leather. It was Valen- 
tinois's captain, Taddeo della Volpe. 

"Well returned, my Pantaleone!" he cried. "The 
Duke named you but yesterday, wondering how you 

"Did he so?" said Pantaleone, since he must say 
something, raging inwardly to find his retreat cut off 
by this most inopportune encounter. 

The veteran rolled his single eye in the direction of 
Madonna Fulvia. " Is this the prisoner you were sent 
to capture?" quoth he, and Pantaleone could not be 
sure that he was not being mocked. " But I delay you. 
You'll be for the Duke. I'll go with you." 

Now here was Pantaleone in desperate straits. Me- 
chanically he moved forward with Taddeo, since to 
obey his very natural impulse and turn about to re- 
treat by the way he had come was now utterly impos- 
sible. Nor could he question Madonna as he desired 
to do whilst Della Volpe stalked there beside him. 

A dozen paces brought them to the open space be- 


fore the Duomo, and there Pantaleone grew cold with 
fear to find himself almost face to face with Cesare 
Borgia himself, who rode amid a group of courtiers 
followed by a file of men-at-arms from whose lances 
fluttered the bannerols with the Borgia device of the 
Red Bull. 

He was in the trap. He had been led into it by the 
nose like a fool by this whey-faced Orsini girl, and he 
lacked even the strength to brace himself against the 
snapping of its springs. As he checked his horse, me- 
chanically in his dismay, Madonna Fulvia dealt her 
own a cut across the hams that launched it forward 
as from a catapult. 

"Justice!" she cried, brandishing above her head 
what looked like a short truncheon. "Lord Duke of 
Valentinois, justice!" 

There was a commotion in the magnificent group 
about his highness. The wild bound of her horse had 
brought her almost into the midst of it. 

The Duke raised his hand, and the cavalcade came 
to a sudden halt. His splendid eyes swept over her, 
and there was something in his glance that seemed to 
scorch her. 

She beheld now for the first time this man, the 
enemy of her house, one whom she had come to con- 
sider a very monster. He was dressed in black, in the 
Spanish fashion, his doublet scrolled with golden ara- 
besques, his velvet cap laced with a string of smoul- 
dering rubies large as sparrows' eggs. From under this 
the wave of his bronze-coloured hair fell to his shoul- 
ders. The delicate yet essentially male beauty of his 
young face was such that for a moment it checked her 
cruel purpose. 


A smile, gentle, almost wistful, broke upon that 
noble countenance, and he spoke in a voice that was 
soft and full of melody. 

"What justice do you seek. Madonna?" 

To combat the sweet seduction of his face and voice 
she had need in that hour to bethink her of her cousins 
strangled at Assisi, of those other kinsmen gaoled in 
Rome and like to die, and of her own lover, Matteo, in 
peril of capture and death. What, then, if this man 
were a very miracle of male beauty ? Was he not the 
enemy of her race? Did he not seek Matteo's life? 
Had he not set that foul hound of his to track Matteo 

Upon the unuttered answer to those unuttered 
questions she braced herself, steeled her resolve and 
held out the tube she carried. 

"It is all set down here. Magnificent, in this peti- 

He moved his horse forward some paces from amid 
his attendant courtiers, and without haste put forth 
his gauntletted hand to receive the thing she prof- 
fered. He balanced it in his palm a moment, as li 
weighing it, considering. It was a hollow cane, sealed 
at both ends. A faint smile moved his lips under cover 
of his auburn beard. 

"Here are great precautions," was his gentle com- 
ment, and his eyes stabbed her with questions. 

" I would not have it polluted on its way to your 
august hands," she explained. 

His smile broadened. He inclined his head as if to 
acknowledge the courtliness of her speech. Then his 
glance went beyond her and rested on the scared and 
savage Pantaleone. 


"What fellow is that who is skulking there behind 
you?" said he. "You there!" he called. "Ola! Ap- 

Pantaleone gave a nervous hitch to his reins and 
walked his horse forward. His bronzed face was 
pallid, his glance furtive and uneasy; indeed, extreme 
uneasiness was writ large in every line of him. 

Cesare's brows were faintly raised. "Why, Messer 
Pantaleone!" he cried. "You are well returned, and 
most opportunely. Here, break me these seals and 
read me the parchment this tube contains." 

There was a sudden stir of interest in the gay flock 
of attendants, a movement of horses and a craning of 
necks, which quickened when Madonna Fulvia inter- 

"No, no, Magnificent!" Her voice was sharp with 
a sudden anxiety. "It is for your eyes alone." 

He pondered her white face until she felt as she 
would faint under his regard, such was the terror with 
which it was beginning to inspire her. He smiled with 
a sweetness as ineffable as it was terrible and he ad- 
dressed her in his silkiest accents. 

"Since beholding you, Madonna, my eyes are 
something dazzled. I must borrow Ser Pantaleone's, 
there, and be content to employ my ears." Then to 
Pantaleone on a sudden note of sharp command: 
"Come, sir," he said, "we wait." 

Pantaleone, a little dazed by his terror, took the 
thing in his shaking hands, and not daring to demur 
or show hesitation, broke one of the seals with 
clumsy, fumbling fingers. A silken cord protruded 
from the tube. He seized it to pull forth the parch- 
ment, then with a sharp exclamation he drew back his 


hand as if he had been stung — as indeed he had been. 
There was a speck of blood on his thumb and another 
on his forefinger. 

Madonna Fulvia shot a fearful glance at Valen- 
tinois. She saw here the miscarriage of her crafty 
plan, through the one factor which she had left out of 
consideration — the circumstance that Cesare Borgia, 
living and moving in an environment of treachery, 
amid foes both secret and avowed, took no chances of 
falling a victim either to their force or their guile. 
She had not reckoned that he would appoint Panta- 
leone in this matter to an office akin to that filled at 
his table by the venom-taster. 

"Come, come," the Duke was admonishing the 
hesitating Pantaleone, more sharply now. "Are we 
to wait here in the cold all day.^ The petition, 

Desperately Pantaleone now grasped the cord, tak- 
ing care this time to avoid the thorn that accident or 
design — and he did not greatly care which, since he 
counted himself lost in any case — had lodged in the 
strands of the silk. He drew forth a cylinder of parch- 
ment, let fall the cane that had contained it, un- 
rolled the petition with shaking hands, and studied it 
awhile, his brow wrinkled by the effort, for he was an 
indifferent scholar. 

"Well, sir? Will you read?" 

Precipitately he responded to that command, and 
fell to reading aloud, his voice hoarse: 

Magnificent — By these presents I make appeal to you 
for justice against one who has proved as treacherous to 
you in the performance of the task to which you set him as 
was treacherous that task itself . . . 


He broke off abruptly, looking up with the wild 
eyes of a hunted thing. 

"It... it is not true!" he protested, faltering. 

"Who bade you judge?" Cesare asked. "I bade 
you read; no more. Read on, then. Should it prove to 
concern you your answer to it can follow." 

Under the suasion of that imperious will, Panta- 
leone bent his eyes to the parchment again, and pur- 
sued his reading. 

. . . Believing that Matteo Orsini whom he was bidden to 
arrest is in hiding at Pievano, he has consented to connive 
at his escape and thus betray your trust in him upon the 
condition that I become his wife and my dowry his posses- 

Again he broke off. "By the Eyes of God, it is 
false! As false as hell!" he cried, a sob of agony 
breaking his voice. 

" Read on!" The Duke*s voice and mien were alike 

Dominated once more, Pantaleone returned yet 
again to the parchment. 

. . . Escape may or may not be for Matteo, but at least 
there can be no escape for you who read, by the time you 
have read thus far. We have another guest at Pievano in 
our lazar-house there — the smallpox. And these presents 
have lain an hour upon the breast of one who is dying of it, 
and . . . 

On a sudden outcry of terror Pantaleone brought 
his reading abruptly to an end. The plague-laden 
parchment floated from his hands that were suddenly 
turned limp. It reached the ground, and there was a 


sudden alarmed movement on all sides to back away 
beyond the radius of its venom, beyond the danger of 
the dread scourge that it exuded. 

Dully through Pantaleone's benumbed wits the re- 
alization thrust itself that the thorn in the silk had 
been no accident. It had been set there of intent, so 
that it might open a way by which the terrible infec- 
tion should travel the more swiftly and surely into the 
reader's veins. He knew himself for a doomed man, 
one who might count himself under sentence of death, 
since the chances of winning alive through an attack 
of that pestilence were so slight as to be almost negli- 
gible. Ashen-faced he stared straight before him, what 
time indignation and horror found voice on every side, 
and continued clamant until the Duke raised an im- 
perious hand to demand silence. 

He alone remained unmoved, or at least showed 
no outward sign of such anger as he may have felt. 
When next he addressed the white-faced lady, who 
had made this desperate attempt upon his life, his 
voice was as smooth and silken as it had been before, 
his returning smile as sweet. And perhaps because of 
that the doom he pronounced was the more awful. 

"Of course," he said, "since Ser Pantaleone has 
fulfilled his part of the bargain, you. Madonna, will 
now fulfil yours. You will wed him as you undertook." 

Wide-eyed, she stared, and it was a long moment 
ere she understood the poetic justice that he meted 
out to her. When at last her voice came, it came in a 
hoarse cry of horror. 

"Wed him? Wed him! He is infected . . ." 

"With your venom," Cesare cut in crisply. And he 
continued calmly as one reasoning with a wayward 


child: "It is your duty to yourself and him. You are 
in honour bound by your compact. The poor fellow 
could not foresee all this. You had not made him 
privy to your plans." 

He was mocking her. She perceived it, and rage 
surged through her at the ruthless cruelty of it. She 
had ever heard that he was pitiless, but in no imagin- 
ing of hers could she ever have conceived a pitiless- 
ness to compare with this. Her sudden surge of an- 
ger heartened her a little, yet it lent her no words in 
which to answer him, for in truth he was unanswer- 
able — his justice ever was, wherefore men hated him 
the more. 

"You called to me for justice, Madonna," he re- 
minded her. "Thus you receive it. It is complete, I 
think. I hope it satisfies you." 

Her anger shivered itself unuttered against that 
iron dominance of his. Before it her spirit left her ut- 
terly, her high courage ebbed like water, and she be- 
came again the prey of fear and horror. 

"Oh, not that! Not that!" she cried to him. 
"Mercy! Mercy! As you would hope for mercy in 
your need, have mercy on me now." He looked sar- 
donically at Ser Pantaleone, who sat his horse, be- 
numbed in body and in brain. 

"Madonna Fulvia does- not flatter you, Panta- 
leone," said he. "She has little fancy for you as a 
bridegroom, it appears. Yet, fool, you believed her 
when she promised to take you to husband. You be- 
lieved her! Ha! What was it Fra Serafino said of 
you?" He fell thoughtful. "I remember! He found 
you too full in the lips to be trusted with a woman. 
He knows his world, Fra Serafino. A cloister is a good 


coign of observation. So you succumbed to her prom- 
ises! But be comforted. She shall fulfil them, where 
she thought to cheat you. She shall take you to that 
white breast of hers — you and the plague you carry 
with you." 

"O God!" she panted. "Will you wed me to 

"Is it possible," he wondered, "that you can find 
death more repulsive than Pantaleone? Yet con- 
sider," he begged her, reasoning dispassionately, 
"that I do naught by you that you would not have 
done by me." He began with infinite caution to peel 
off the heavy gauntlet of buffalo hide with which he 
had handled that death-dealing tube. "After all," he 
resumed, "if to keep your word is beyond measure 
odious to you — a family trait with you, Madonna, as 
I have cause to know — I may show you the way to 
escape its consequences." 

She looked at him, but there was no hope in her 

"You mock me!" she cried. 

"Not so. There is a way that some would account 
to be consistent with honour. Cancel the bargain that 
you made with him, and thus cancel the obligation to 
fulfil your part and to submit to his embrace." 

"Cancel it? How cancel it?" she asked. 

"Is it not plain? By surrendering Matteo Orsini 
to me. Deliver him up to me this day, and the night 
shall be free from nuptials that are distasteful to you." 

She understood at once the satanic subtlety of this 
man; she saw how far removed he was from any petty 
vengeance such as she had suspected him to be grati- 
fying; she was but an insignificant pawn in the deep 


game he played; her feelings were to him no more 
than the means to the one end of which never for an 
instant had he lost sight — the capture of Matteo Or- 
sini. That was all that mattered to him, and he was 
not to be turned aside by any considerations of anger 
towards herself. He had terrified her with the threat 
of this unutterable marriage, simply that he might 
render her pliant to his will, ready to pay any price of 
treachery to escape that ghastly fate. 

"Deliver him up to you?" she said, and it was her 
turn to smile at last, but with infinitely bitter scorn. 

"Could aught be easier?" he asked. "There is no 
need to tell me even where he lurks. I do not ask you 
to betray him, or do aught that would hurt your ten- 
der Orsini sensibilities." His sarcasm was as a sword of 
fire. "You need but to send him word of the plight 
into which your essay in poisoning has landed you. 
That is all. As he is a man, he must come hither to 
ransom you from the consequences of your deed. Let 
him come before nightfall, or else" — he shrugged, 
flung his gauntlets down into the mud, and nodded his 
head towards the stricken Pantaleone — "you keep 
your bargain; you pay the price agreed upon for his 
escape, and myself I shall provide the nuptial ban- 

She looked at him with a deep malignity aroused by 
his own relentlessness and by the hateful suavity in 
which he cloaked it. And then her wits roused them- 
selves to do battle with his own. She saw how subtlety 
might yet defeat subtlety. And as the idea crept into 
her fevered mind, the blood came slowly back into her 
livid cheeks, her glance grew bold and resolute as it 
met his own. 


"Be it so," she said. "You leave me no choice, 
Magnificent." Her voice came harsh and something 
mocking. "It shall be as you desire. I will send my 
servant to him now." 

He gave her a long, searching glance which at first 
was grave and doubting, and ended by becoming al- 
most contemptuous. He made a sign to his cavaliers. 

"Let us on, sirs. Here is no more to do." But he 
stooped from his saddle to issue an order in an under- 
tone to Delia Volpe who throughout had stood beside 
him. Then, flicking his horse with the slight whip 
which he carried, he moved on across the square, his 
fluttering attendants with him. He rode away with 
contempt in his heart. He knew this Orsini brood. 
They were all the same. Bold to devise, but craven to 
execute; their brains were stouter than their hearts. 
Their stifi^ness crumpled at the touch. 


ERECT and stiff upon her horse sat Madonna 
Fulvia, her eyes following the Duke as he rode 
away across the square, to vanish down the street 
that opened out of it. She remained thus, bemused, 
half-dazed, indifferent to the gaping crowd that by 
now surrounded her, but keeping its distance out of 
respect for the disease with which Pantaleone was 
accounted laden. 

She was roused at length by a groom dressed in 
black with a bull wrought in red upon the breast of 
his doublet, who stepped forward to take her reins, 
whilst at the same time Delia Volpe addressed her, his 
tone respectful, but his single eye contemptuous. 

"Madonna," he said, "I pray you go with us. I 
have my lord's commands for your entertainment." 

She looked at him, sneering at first at the euphe- 
mism he had employed by which to convey to her that 
she was a prisoner. But something in that veteran's 
rugged face struck the sneer from her lips. Two 
things she read in that countenance: the first, that 
he was honest; the second, that he contemned her ac- 

Her glance grew troubled, and it fell away from 

"Do you lead the way then, sir," she said. "My 
equerry here accompanies me, I think." And she in- 
dicated Mario, who sat his horse rigidly behind her, a 
dumb anguish in his dark eyes. 

"Naturally, Madonna, since he is to be your hies- 


senger. Forward, Giasone," he commanded; and upon 
that, the groom leading her horse, Delia Volpe strid- 
ing grimly beside her and Mario riding as grimly in 
her wake, she moved forward towards the Communal 
Palace whither by Cesare's orders they were taking 

As for the wretched Pantaleone, she scarce be- 
stowed another thought upon him. He had been no 
more than a pawn in this game of hers, even as she 
was become one now in the deeper game of the 
Duke's. He had served his miserable turn, though not 
quite as she had intended. In view of the resolve she 
had taken, it was unlikely that she would be troubled 
with him again, she thought. 

She had observed, though with but faint interest, 
that a half-dozen arbalesters had charge of him. 
These men, under the command of an ancient, showed 
no relish for their task of apprehending one who was 
so armed that without raising a finger he could fling 
death about him. Accordingly they kept their dis- 
tance. They made a wide ring about their prisoner, 
each with a quarrel laid to his arbalest, and thus they 
urged him away, threatening to shoot him if he were 

When at last he had been removed in this fashion, a 
man in the Borgia livery came forward with a flaming 
torch to within a couple of yards of the pestilential 
parchment that still lay where it had fallen. Thence 
he flung his torch upon it, nor went to recover it 
again. Torch and plague-laden parchment were con- 
sumed together, in spite of which, so runs the story, 
the good folk of Citta della Pieve went wide of the 
spot for days thereafter. 


Meanwhile Madonna Fulvia had been conducted to 
the Communal, and found herself housed in a long, 
low-ceilinged chamber of the mezzanine of the old 
palace, an austere room in the matter of equipment, 
for Citta della Pieve was a modest township that had 
not kept pace with the luxurious development of the 
great Italian States. 

A guard was placed outside the door, and another 
was set to pace beneath her windows; but at least she 
was given the freedom of that spacious chamber, and 
of course Mario was admitted to her presence, since 
he was to be her messenger to Matteo Orsini. The 
Duke had judged it well that it should be so, since to 
the testimony of such letters as she might write Mario 
would add the confirmation of his own evidence of a 
fact which might be disbelieved if related by another. 

Alone with his mistress, this frail child whom he 
had known from her cradle, the old servant now broke 
down utterly. His grimness deserted him utterly, 
and the tears rolled down his ghastly furrowed face. 

"Madonna mine! Madonna mine!" he sobbed 
brokenly, and held out his old arms as if he would 
have taken her to them, paternally to comfort her. 
"I warned you. I told you here was no work for such 
gentleness as yours. I implored you to let me do this 
thing in your stead. What do I matter? I am old; my 
life has reached its evening; my loss of a few days 
more would be nobody's gain. But you . . . O God of 

"Calm, Mario! Be calm," she bade him gently. 

"Calm?" he cried. "Can I be calm when before 
you lies the choice between betrayal and death, and, 
Gesu! such a death. Had I carried an arbalest I 


should have put a bolt through his devil's heart when 
he pronounced your doom; the fiend, the monster!" 

"A beautiful devil he is," she said. Then she 
dropped her voice. "Mario!" She called him softly. 
Her eyes flashed to the door, then she drew still far- 
ther from it, over to the window overlooking the 
square, beckoning him to follow. He went silently, 
staring, impressed by the mystery of her bearing. 

By the window, in lowered, murmuring accents she 
addressed him. 

"There may yet be a way out of this," she said. 
"You shall bear no letters, because you will need 
none. Listen now." And she gave him her com- 

By the time she had done he was staring at her, his 
jaw fallen. Then he stirred himself out of his amaze- 
ment. He broke into protests that she was but mak- 
ing her ruin doubly certain; he sought to dissuade 
her, reminded her that it was through a disregard of 
his counsels that she came into her present ghastly 
pass, and besought her not again to disregard them. 

But in her headstrong way she remained unmoved, 
her resolve a rock upon which the torrent of his loving 
eloquence broke and was dissipated. And so in the 
end she had her way with him against his better 
judgment, even as last night. That there might be no 
mistake she repeated all to him in brief at parting. 

"And to my lord? What shall I say to my lord?" 
he asked. 

"As little as you can, and nothing to alarm him." 

"I am to lie, then." 

"Even that if need be, out of charity to him." 

He departed at last, and throughout the long after- 


jioon she sat alone in that room of the mezzanine, save 
for one interruption when a couple of slender ver- 
milion striplings of the Duke's household brought her 
food and wine in golden vessels upon salvers of beaten 

She drank a little of the wine, but though she had 
not eaten since leaving Pievano early that morning, 
the suffocation of suspense was upon her and she re- 
fused all food. 

She sat on by the window, and towards evening she 
saw the Duke returning with his gay cavalcade. Later, 
as the twilight was deepening, the two vermilion pages 
returned to bid her in the Duke's name to the supper 
that was spread below. She excused herself. But the 
pages were gently insistent. 

"It is his potency's wish," one of them informed 
her, in a tone that quietly implied that what his po- 
tency wished none might withstand. 

Perceiving not only the uselessness of further de- 
nial, but, further, that her very presence below might 
advance the thing she had set herself to do, she rose 
and signed to the pages to lead the way. In the corri- 
dor another pair awaited her, each bearing a lighted 
taper, who went on ahead. In this ceremonious fashion 
was she conducted below to the great hall, where a 
courtly crowd of cavaliers and ladies were assembled, 
making her instantly conscious — very woman that 
she was — of her own plain and dusty raiment, so out 
of place amid all this glittering splendour. 

The Duke himself, tall and graceful in a suit of 
sulphur-coloured silk with silver bands at throat and 
waist, advanced to the foot of the stairs to receive her, 
bowing to her with the deference he might have used 


to a princess. By the hand, which she did not dream 
of denying him, he led her through the throng to the 
double doors that were thrown open upon an inner 
room. Here long tables were set for supper upon a 
dais that formed the three sides of a parallelogram. 

At the table's head, in the middle of the short upper 
limb, he took his seat with her beside him, whilst 
those who had trooped in after them found for them- 
selves the places that had been allotted them. It was 
as if the company had but awaited the arrival of her- 
self as of an honoured guest, and the vengeful mock- 
ery of it stabbed her to the soul. Yet she strove that 
naught of this should appear, and she succeeded. 
White-faced she sat between Valentinois and the 
portly Capello, Orator of Venice, braving the curious 
glances that were flashed towards her from every side. 

That room of the Communal, which in normal 
times was bare and cheerless as a barn, had been 
transmogrified under the deft hands of Cesare's famil- 
iars until none who knew its ordinary appearance 
could now have recognized it. You might have sup- 
posed yourself in one of the chambers of the Vatican. 
The walls were hung with costly arras, Byzantine car- 
pets had been spread upon the stone floor, and the 
tables themselves gleamed and flashed with broidered 
naperies, vessels of gold and silver, costly crystal and 
massive candlesticks in which candles of painted and 
scented wax were burning. Add to this that gorgeous 
company in silk and velvet, in cloth of gold and silver, 
in ermines and miniver, the women in gem-encrusted 
bodices and jewelled hair-nets, the flock of splendidly 
liveried servants below the dais, the cloud of flutter- 
ing pages, and you will understand how Madonna 


Fulvia, reared far from the world of courts in the 
claustral seclusion of Pievano, was dazzled by the 

From a fretted gallery above the doorway came a 
sound of lutes, archlutes, and viols, and under cover 
of the music — his voice so melodious that it almost 
seemed to sing to it — the Duke addressed her. 

"I rejoice for you. Madonna," he said, "that here 
is spread no nuptial feast." 

She looked at him, and shivered slightly as she 
turned away again. 

"It would break my heart," he pursued on that 
murmuring, caressing note of his that lent his voice a 
wooing quality, "it would break my heart to see so 
much beauty delivered into the arms of foul infection. 
Hence do I fervently pray that Matteo Orsini comes 

"And for no other reason?" she asked him scorn- 
fully, stung by what seemed to her such stark hypoc- 

He smiled, his beautiful sombre eyes enveloping her 
white face in their regard. "I confess the other," he 
admitted, "but I swear as I am living man and wor- 
ship all things lovely, the reason that I gave weighs 
the heavier." He sighed. "It is to save you that I 
pray Matteo Orsini may come to-night." 

"He will come," she answered him. "Have no 
doubt of that." 

"He owes no less to his manhood," he said quietly. 
Then turned his attention to more immediate matter. 
"You do not eat," he reproved her. 

"I should choke, I think," she answered frankly. 

"A cup of wine at least," he urged, and signed to a 


cellarer who bore a gold vessel of soft Puglia wine. 
But, seeing her gesture of refusal, he put forth a hand 
to stay the servant's pouring. "Wait," he said, and 
beckoned a page to him. "A moss-agate cup for Ma- 
donna Fulvia, here," he bade the stripling, and the 
page vanished upon his errand. 

Madonna's lip curled a little. "There is no need for 
the precaution," she said — for moss-agate cups were 
said to burst if poison touched them — " I neither sus- 
pect venom nor do I fear it." 

"So much I might have known," he answered, 
"since you have displayed yourself so subtly learned 
in the uses of it." 

He spoke quietly and gravely, but at the words she 
felt herself go hot and cold at once. A scarlet wave 
suffused her face, then ebbed, to leave it deathly pale. 
His words made her perhaps realize that she had no 
just cause for grievance; she was a poisoner caught 
flagrante^ and the steely treatment he meted out to 
her in his silken fashion was no more than her desert. 

Back came the page with the gleaming moss-agate 
cup, which he set down before her. The waiting cel- 
larer brimmed it at a sign from him, and his glance 
now inviting her she drank to steady her sudden 

But the meats they placed before her continued un- 
heeded, nor did she thereafter heed the Duke when he 
leaned aside to mock her still with that dread gentle- 
ness of his. Her staring eyes were set expectantly 
upon the doors at the room's end. It waxed late, and 
her impatience mounted. Why did they not come, 
and thus put an end to the unbearable strain of sus- 
pense that racked her very soul? 


Came pages now with silver basins, ewers, and nap- 
kins. Gallants and ladies dipped their hands and 
washed their fingers against the serving of the sweet- 
meats, and then without warning — but obeying, no 
doubt, the orders that the Duke had left — those por- 
tals upon which Madonna's eyes had so long been 
fastened swung open, and between two men-at-arms 
in steel she beheld her clay-faced equerry, the faithful 
Mario, haggard and dust-stained, returned at last. 

The hum of conversation sank down and was stilled 
as the sturdy fellow advanced up the long room be- 
tween the tables and came, still flanked by his guards, 
to stand immediately before the Duke. Not to the 
Duke, however, but to Madonna Fulvia did he ad- 
dress himself when at length he spoke. 

"Madonna, I have done your bidding. I have 
brought Ser Matteo." 

A silence followed and a pause, ended at last by 
Cesare's short laugh. 

"Body of God! Did he need bringing?" 

"He did, my lord." 

The Duke's glance swept over the noble company. 
"You hear," he called to them, raising his voice. 
"You perceive the lofty spirit of these Orsini. An Or- 
sini must needs be brought to ransom his mistress and 
kinswoman from the fate decreed her." He turned to 
the equerry. "Fetch him hither," he said shortly, 
with a wave of his fine hand. 

But Mario was slow to obey. Not upon the Duke 
but upon Madonna were his eyes set, as if awaiting 
her confirmation of that command. She nodded, 
whereupon he turned and strode down the room again 
upon his errand and so out. 


The doors closed after him, but the silence contin- 
ued. No man or woman there but felt the oppression 
of the impending drama, but awaited in suspense the 
climax and conclusion that were close at hand. The 
very minstrels in the gallery had ceased their music, 
and not a sound disturbed the general brooding hush. 

Cesare leaned back in his high gilded chair, his 
slender fingers toying delicately with the strands of 
his auburn beard, his narrowed eyes glancing aslant 
at Madonna Fulvia. He found her manner very odd. 
It contained some quality that intrigued him, and 
eluded his miraculous penetration. 

She sat there with ashen face and wide, staring 
eyes; so might a corpse have sat, and a corpse you 
might have deemed her but for the convulsive heave 
of her slight bosom. 

And then a sound of voices beyond the door — of 
voices raised in sudden altercation — broke upon the 
general expectancy. 

"You cannot enter!" came a gruff shout. "You 
cannot take . . ." 

And then they heard Mario's voice, harsh, vibrant, 
and compelling interrupting and overbearing the ob- 

** Did you not hear the Duke's express commands 
that I should bear Matteo Orsini to him ? I have Mat- 
teo Orsini here, and I but obey his potency's com- 
mands. Out of my way, then." 

But other voices broke in upon him, all speaking to- 
gether so that they make no more than a confused 
and bawling chorus whose purport was not to be dis- 

Suddenly Cesare rose in his place, his eyes flaming. 


"What's this?" he cried. "By the Host! Am I kept 
waiting? Set me wide those doors!" 

There was a scurry of lackeys to obey that imperi- 
ous voice. The Duke sank back into his chair as the 
doors were violently pulled open. Beyond it a line of 
a half-dozen men-at-arms made a screen that con- 
cealed whatever lay behind them. 

"My lord . . ." began one of these, a grizzled an- 
cient, raising his hand in appeal. 

But Cesare let him get no further. His clenched 
hand descended violently upon the table. "Stand 
back, I say, and let him enter." 

Instantly that line of steel-clad men melted and 
vanished, and where it had been stood Mario now. 
He paused a moment on the threshold, his face set 
and grim. Then he stalked forward up the long room 
again between the tables. But no one heeded him. 
Every eye was fixed in amazed and uncomprehend- 
ing horror upon that which followed after him. 

Came four brothers of the Misericordia in black, 
funereal habits, their heads cowled, their eyes gleam- 
ing faintly from the eyeholes cut in their shapeless 
vizors. Among them they carried a bier, whose trap- 
pings of black velvet edged with silver swept the 
ground as they solemnly advanced. 

They were midway up that room before the com- 
pany broke from the spell of horror which this grim 
spectacle had laid upon it. A loud outcry seemed to 
burst from every throat at once. Then the Duke leapt 
to his feet, and the whole company with him, and in 
the sudden stir and confusion none observed that 
Madonna Fulvia left her place at the Duke's side. 

The bearers halted and set down their ghastly 


burden. Mario stood slightly aside, lest his body 
should screen the bier from the eyes of the Duke. 

"What's this?" his potency demanded, anger ring- 
ing in his voice. "What jest is this you dare to put 
upon me?" And as he spoke he swung aside to where 
Madonna Fulvia had been; then, finding her place 
now vacant, his flaming eyes swept around in quest of 
her, and discovered her at last standing there beside 
the bier. 

"No jest. Magnificent," she answered him, her 
head thrown back, a smile of bitter, tragic triumph on 
her white face. "Faithful and utter compliance with 
your behest — no more. You commanded that Matteo 
Orsini should be delivered into your hands. Provided 
I did that you would release me of my compact to wed 
your jackal Pantaleone degli Uberti. I hold you to 
your word, my lord. I have done my part. Matteo 
Orsini is here." And she flung an arm out and down- 
wards to indicate the bier. 

He stared at her, his eyes narrowing, oddly out of 
countenance for one habitually so calm, so master of 
every circumstance. 

"Here?" he questioned, and added the further 
question — "Dead?" 

For answer she stooped and swept the velvet pall 
aside, laying bare the coffin underneath. That done 
she faced him again, defiance in her every slender line, 
a ghastly smile on her pale lips. 

"Bid your guards hack off the lid that you may 
assure yourself 'tis he. I promise you he will offer no 
resistance now." 

Considering him, she took satisfaction in the per- 
ception that at last she had wiped that hateful, gently 


mocking smile from his face. He was scowling upon 
her, his eyes ablaze with such a passion as no man in 
all Italy would willingly have confronted. His hands, 
resting upon the table before him, were clenched so 
that the knuckles showed like knobs of marble. 

The rest of them, the whole of that splendid com- 
pany, was ranged against the walls as far as possible 
from that hideous thing below. In their minds, as in 
Cesare's, there stirred a memory of what had befallen 
earlier that day — of that letter that had been in- 
fected and of the manner of that infection — and a 
suspicion of what was yet to follow began to form in 
the thoughts of all. 

Thus for a spell of awful silence, then Cesare's voice 
rasped out a question harshly — a question that voiced 
in part that general and terrible suspicion: 

"How died he?" 

Came like a thunderbolt her answer, shrilly deliv- 
ered on a high note of fierce exaltation — "He died 
of the smallpox yesternight. Hack off the lid," she 
added. "Hack off the lid, and take him." 

But that last mocking invitation which she hurled 
at the Duke was lost in the sudden uproar in the noise 
of the wild stampede that followed her announcement. 
Mad with fear, men who had shown themselves fear- 
less upon a field of stricken battle turned this way and 
that, seeking a way out. Cursing, they hurled them- 
selves against the long windows that opened upon the 
little claustral garden of the Communal, and scream- 
ing, fainting women crowded after them to avail them- 
selves of this shortest way out that was being forced 

It would have needed more even than the presence 


of that terrible Duke to have restrained them in their 
wild panic, in their mad frenzy to breathe the clean 
cold air, to quit this tainted atmosphere, to fly this 
hideous plague-spot. Nor did Cesare make any effort 
to delay their flight. 

With shivering of glass and crashing of splintere(f 
timbers those long window-doors were swept away. 
Out of the room headlong, as a river that has burst its 
dam, surged that courtly, terror-stricken mob; into it 
rushed the pure, keen air of the January night. 

Cesare alone, at his place beyond the board, in the 
flickering light of wind-blown, guttering candles, re- 
mained even after the last lackey had fled, conquered 
by his panic. Indomitable, the Duke stood there t*"* 
face the woman who dared to bring a plague-ridden 
corpse to set at naught his authority and make a 
mock of his power. 

"Well?" she asked him, and her laugh made him 
shudder, man of iron though he was. "Have you the 
courage to face Matteo Orsini now? Or do you lack it 
still, for all that he is dead?" 

"Living I never feared him," he blazed out, un- 
worthily it must be confessed. 

"Then you will not fear him dead," said she, and 
turned fiercely upon her equerry. "Here, Mario, you 
who have had the scourge and therefore need no longer 
fear it, prize off this lid. Give Matteo room to strike 
even in death." 

But the Duke waited for no more. Panic took him, 
too; and he was known to confess to it thereafter, add- 
ing that it was the only occasion in all his life upon 
which he had been face to face with fear, he who so 
often had looked death in the eyes without quailing. 


"Blood of God!" he cried, and on that fierce oath 
he sprang from the table, and flung through the nearest 
window in the wake of his vanished court. Outside 
they heard him shouting for his horse, and they heard 
too the clamour of answering voices. 

Within ten minutes he and his noble company were 
in the saddle, scudding through the night away 
from Castel della Pieve and the dread plague it har- 

As that thunder of hoofs receded, Madonna Fulvia, 
who had remained by the cofiin with no word spoken, 
bade the men take up their burden once more. Laden 
with it they passed out of that room, all littered with 
the now unheeded treasures that had been assembled 
in the Duke's honour. Madonna and Mario walked 
ahead; the coffin was borne after them. They crossed 
the hall and quitted the palace, none hindering, indeed, 
all fleeing before their approach. Horses were found 
for herself and Mario; the bearers came on foot with 
their burden. Thus they took the road by the marshes 
back to Pievano in the dark. 

When they had put a league or so between them- 
selves and Citta della Pieve, she spoke for the first 

"How was it with Giuberti to-day, Mario?" she 

"He died at noon. Madonna," was the answer. 
"God be praised, there is no other case of smallpox 
yet, and by His Grace there will be none. Our pre- 
cautions were well taken, and they will be to the end. 
Colomba herself dug his grave and gave him burial 
deep in the enclosed garden. The lazar-house was in 
flames when I left Pievano, so that all source of infec- 


tion may be destroyed, and Colomba herself will set 
up a tent in the enclosure and abide there until all 
danger of her carrying the scourge is overpast." 

"The good Colomba shall be rewarded, Mario. We 
are profoundly in her debt." 

" A faithful soul," Mario admitted. " But there was 
no risk to her, since, like myself, she too has paid the 
price of immunity." 

"That cannot lessen our gratitude," she said. And 
then she sighed. "Poor Giuberti! God rest his loyal 
soul! A faithful servant ever, he has served us even in 
death. Heaven has blessed us in the matter of serv- 
ants, Mario. There is yourself . . " 

"I? I am but a clod," he interrupted. "I had not 
the wit to trust you to-day. Had you been depend- 
ent upon my service all must have miscarried and 
Heaven knows what fatality had been the end of this 

"Which reminds me," said she, "that these poor 
fellows are unnecessarily laden. We have no pursuit to 
fear, and we shall make the better speed if we ease 
them of their burden," She drew rein as she spoke, 
and Mario with her. "Enough!" she called to those 
cowled figures that swung along behind her. "Empty 
it out." 

Obediently they set down the coffin, forced up the 
lid, tilted it over, and rolled out the load of earth and 
stones that it contained. 

She laughed softly in the dark when this was done. 
But Mario shuddered, bethinking him of the risk she 
had taken. 

"God and His saints be thanked he did not dare to 
look," he said with fervour. "He has a reputation for 


high courage, and I feared ... By the Host! how I 

"Not more than I feared, Mario," she confessed, 
" but I also hoped; and if the chance was a desperate 
one it was still the only chance." 

At Pievano some hours later she found her father so 
racked with anxiety by her continued absence and the 
circumstance that Mario had come and gone again 
that afternoon that he had summoned the fugitive 
Matteo Orsini from his hiding-place to consult with 
him as to what measures should be taken. 

Her appearance ended their travail of spirit, and the 
sight of them made an end of the fortitude that had so 
long upheld her. She flung herself upon her lover's 
breast, panting and trembling. 

"You may sleep quiet now of nights, Matteo mine," 
she said. "He believes you dead, and fears you dead 
more than he could ever have feared you living." 
And on that she fainted in his arms, her strength of 
body and of spirit alike exhausted. 

And that, so far as I can discover, is the only in- 
stance in which man or woman defeated the Duke of 
Valentinois in an encounter of wits; nor does it lessen 
my high opinion of his penetration, for it must surely 
be admitted that the dice were heavily cogged against 
him, and that he fell a victim to a fraud rendered 
possible by circumstances. There is also responsible 
for this failure the fact that for once he did not choose 
his tool with that discrimination which Macchiavelli 
enjoins upon princes. He overlooked the significance 
of those excessively full lips of Pantaleone's and left 


unheeded the warning Fra Serafino uttered on the 

score of them. Or perhaps, on the other hand But 

why speculate? I have laid the facts before you, and 
you may draw your own inferences. 

As for Pantaleone, if he still interests you, he fared 
on the whole perhaps better than he deserved, though 
that is purely a matter of the point of view from which 
he is to be judged. For, as the Lord Almerico's fa- 
vourite philosopher has said, a man does not choose 
the part he shall play in life, he simply plays the part 
that is allotted to him. 

He was entirely overlooked when Cesare with all his 
following left Citta della Pieve, and he was left there 
in the gaol into which he had been flung until it should 
be ascertained whether he was to be required as a 
bridegroom. Anon Cesare remembered him, and was 
about to order him to be strangled when he learnt that 
the fellow had developed the smallpox and had been, 
very properly, taken to a lazar-house. It is recorded 
that upon hearing this the Duke shuddered at the 
memory of his own escape, and was content to leave 
the rascal to the fate that had overtaken him — per- 
haps because he knew of no one who in the circum- 
stances would undertake to strangle him. 

Pantaleone's lusty youth stood him in such good 
stead that he made one of those rare recoveries from 
that pitiless scourge. But he came forth into the 
world again broken in health and strength, and no 
longer to be recognized for the same swaggering, 
arrogant captain who had sought sanctuary on that 
January evening at Pievano. 

His career as a captain of fortune being ended, 
realizing that he was a broken and useless man, he 


dragged himself wearily back to the village of Laveno 
in the Bolognese, and stumbled one April morning into 
Leocadia's wine-shop; there he flung himself upon the 
charity and the ample bosom of the woman whom in 
prosperity he had forsaken. And such is the ever-for- 
giving and generous nature of your true woman that 
Leocadia put her arms about him and wept silently in 
thanksgiving for his return, blessing the disease that 
had made him weak and hideous since it had restored 
him to her. 

Since it sorted well with his interest, I do not doubt 
that he made an honest woman of her. 





HE who is great shall never lack for enemies. He 
has to reckon first with lesser great ones, whose 
ambitions he thwarts by his own success, outstripping 
and overshadowing them; and he has to reckon further 
with those insignificant parasites of humanity who, 
themselves utterly unproductive of aught that shall 
benefit their race, destitute alike of the wit to conceive 
for themselves or the energy and capacity to execute 
the conceptions of their betters, writhe in the secret 
consciousness of their utter worthlessness and spit 
the venom of their malice at him who has achieved 
renown. In this they no more than obey the impulses 
of their paltry natures, the dictates of their foolish, 
narrow vanity. The greatness of another wounds 
them in their own self-love. They readily become de- 
tractors and defamers, conceiving that if in the public 
mind they can pull down the object of their envy, they 
have lessened the gulf between themselves and him. 
Fluent — if undeceiving — liars, they go to work 
through the medium of that, their sole and very 
questionable gift. They lie of their own prowess, im- 
portance, and achievement, that thus they may pufF 
themselves up to an apparently greater stature, and 
they lie maliciously and cruelly concerning the object 
of their envy, belittling his attainments, slandering 
him in his private and public life, and smothering his 
repute in the slime of their foul inventions. 


By such signs shall you know them — for a fool is 
ever to be known by those two qualities: his inordinate 
vanity and his falsehood, which usually is no more 
than an expression of that vanity. But his falsehood, 
being naturally of the measure of his poor intelli- 
gence, deceives none but his own kind. 

Such a thing was Messer Paolo Capello, Orator of 
the Most Serene Republic, a servant chosen to forward 
the Venetian hatred of Cesare Borgia. Venice watched 
the Duke's growing power in Italy with ever-in- 
creasing dismay. She saw herself threatened by a 
serious rival in the peninsula, by one who might come 
to eclipse her own resplendent glory, even if he did not 
encroach upon her mainland territories of which, in- 
deed, she was by no means sure. That jealousy of hers 
distorted her judgment of him, for she permitted her- 
self judgment and applied to him the only canons 
that she knew, as if men of genius are to be judged by 
the standards that govern the lives of haberdashers 
and spice-merchants. Thus Venice became Cesare's 
most crafty, implacable enemy in Italy, and an enemy 
for whose hand no weapon was too vile. 

Gladly would the Venetians have moved in arms 
against him, to attempt to crush this man who 
snatched the Romagna from under their covetous 
traders' eyes; but in view of the league with France 
they dared not. Yet what they dared they did. They 
sought to disturb his relations with King Louis, and, 
failing there, they sought alliances with other States 
to which normally they were hostile, and when there 
again they failed, thanks to a guile more keen and 
intelligent than their own, they had recourse to the 
common weapons of the assassin and the slanderer. 


For the latter task they had a ready tool in that 
ineffable and worthless Messer Capello, sometime 
their Orator at the Vatican; for the former, another of 
whom we shall hear more presently. 

This Capello was of the slipperiness of all slimy 
things. And he worked in the dark, burrowing under- 
ground and never affording the Duke a plain reason 
that should have justified extreme measures against 
the sacred person of an ambassador. How he came to 
escape assassination in the early days of his infamous 
career I have never understood. I look upon its omis- 
sion as one of Cesare Borgia's few really great blun- 
ders. A hired bravo with a dagger on some dark night 
might have stemmed that source of foulness, leaving 
the name of Cesare Borgia and of every member of his 
family less odious to posterity. 

When Giovanni Borgia, Duke of Gandia, was mur- 
dered in the pursuit of one of his frivolous amours, 
and no murderer could be discovered — though many 
possible ones were named, from his own brother Giof- 
fredo to Ascanio Sforza, the Cardii^al Vice-Chancellor 

— there came at last from Venice a year after the 
deed the accusation unsupported by any single shred 
of evidence that the deed of fratricide was Cesare's. 
When Pedro Caldes — or Perrotto, as he was called 

— the Pope's chamberlain, fell into the Tiber and was 
drowned, came from Venice a lurid tale — supplied as 
we know from the fertile, unscrupulous pen of Messer 
Capello — of how Cesare had stabbed the wretch in 
the Pope's very arms; and although no man admit- 
tedly had witnessed the deed, yet Messer Capello 
gave the most circumstantial details, even to how the 
flood had spurted up into the face of His Holiness. 


When the unfortunate Turkish prince, the Sultan 
Djem, died of a colic at Naples, it is Capello who 
starts the outrageous story that he was poisoned by 
Cesare, and again he circulates the like calumny when 
the Cardinal Giovanni Borgia succumbed to a fever in 
the course of a journey through Romagna. And if this 
were all — or if all the calumny that Capello invented 
had been concerned with no more than steel and 
poison — we might be patient in our judgment of 
him. But there was worse, far worse. There was, in- 
deed, no dunghill of calumny too foul to be exploited 
by him in the interests of the Most Serene. His 
filthy pen grew, fevered in the elaboration of the lewd 
gossip that he picked up in curial antechambers, and 
in marking out Cesare Borgia for its victim, it yet 
spared no member of his family, but included all in 
the abominations it invented or magnified. Most of 
them have passed into history where they may be 
read, but not necessarily believed. I will not sully this 
fair sheet nor vour decent mind with their recapitula- 

Thus was it that Messer Paolo Capello served the 
Most Serene Republic. But because his services, fren- 
zied though they were, seemed slow to bear the fruit 
which the Most Serene so ardently desired, other and 
more direct methods than those of calumny were re- 
solved upon. The Venetians took this resolve in mid- 
October of the year 1500 of the Incarnation and VHI 
of the Papacy of Roderigo Borgia, who ruled from the 
Chair of St. Peter as Alexander VI; and what urged 
them to it was to see Pandolfo Malatesta, whom they 
had protected, driven out of his tyranny of Rimini, 
and that tyranny of his, which they had coveted. 


pass by right of conquest — based upon certain legal 
papal rights — into the possession of Cesare Borgia, 
further to swell his dominions and his might. 

The Most Serene Republic conceived that the hour 
had come for sharper measures than such as were af- 
forded her by the scurrilous gleanings and inventions 
of her Orator. As her agent in this sinister affair she 
employed a patrician who held the interests of Venice 
very dear; a man who was bold, resolute and resource- 
ful, and whose hatred of the Duke of Valentinois was 
notoriously so intense as to seem an almost personal 
matter. This man — the Prince Marcantonio Sini- 
baldi — she dispatched to Rimini as her envoy ex- 
traordinary for the express purpose, ostensibly, of 
conveying her lying felicitations to the Duke upon 
his conquest. 

As if to emphasize the peaceful and friendly charac- 
ter of his mission, Sinibaldi was accompanied by his 
Princess, a very beautiful and accomplished lady of 
the noble House of Alviano. The pair made their ap>- 
pearance in Rimini surrounded by a pomp and luxury 
of retinue that was extraordinary even for the pom- 
pous and wealthy Republic which they represented. 

The Princess was borne in a horse-litter carried by 
two milk-white Barbary jennets, whose embroidered 
trappings of crimson velvet swept the ground. The 
litter itself was a gorgeous construction, gilded and 
painted like a bride's coffer and hung with curtains 
that were of cloth of gold, upon each of which was 
woven in red the device of the winged lion of St. 
Mark. About this litter swarmed a host of pages, all 
of them lads of patrician estate, in the livery of the 


There were mounted Nubian swordsmen in magni- 
ficent barbaric garments, very terrifying of aspect; 
there were some dozen turbaned Moorish slaves on 
foot, and finally there was a company of a score of ar- 
balesters on horseback as a bodyguard of honour for 
the splendid Prince himself. The Prince, a hand- 
some, resplendent figure, towered upon a magnificent 
charger with a groom trotting afoot at either of his 
stirrups. After him came a group of his personal fa- 
miliars — his secretary, his venom-taster, his chaplain, 
and his almoner, which last flung handfuls of silver 
coins at the mob to impress it with his master's muni- 
ficence and to excite its acclamations of his illustrious 

The good folk of Rimini, who were scarcely recov- 
ered from the excitements of the pageantry of Cesare's 
state entry into the city, were dazzled and dazed 
again by a spectacle of so much magnificence. 

Sinibaldi was housed — and this by the contriving 
of our friend Capello — in the palace of the Lord 
Ranieri, a sometime member of the banished Mala- 
testa's Council, but none the less one of those who had 
been loudest in welcoming the conqueror Cesare, ac- 
claiming him in a speech of surpassing eloquence as 
Rimini's deliverer. 

The Duke had not been deluded by these fine 
phrases. Far from it, he was inspired by them to have 
a close watch set upon Malatesta's sometime council- 
lor. Neither was he at all deluded by the no less fine 
phrases of felicitations addressed him on behalf of 
the Most Serene by her envoy extraordinary Sinibaldi. 
He knew too much — for he had received superabun- 
dant proof — of Venice's real attitude towards him- 


self. He answered them with words fully as graceful 
and fully as hollow. And when he learnt that, under 
himself, Ranieri was to be Sinibaldi's host in Rimini, 
that both these nimble phrase-makers were to lie un- 
der one roof, he bade his secretary Agabito see to it 
that the vigilance under which that palace was al- 
ready kept should be increased. 

To meet Sinibaldi it must be confessed that Ranieri 
— a portly, florid gentleman with a bright and jovial 
blue eye, the very antithesis in appearance to the 
conspirator of tradition — had assembled an odd com- 
pany. There was Francesco d'Alviano, a younger 
brother of that famous soldier, Bartolomeo d'Alvi- 
ano, than whom it was notorious that the Duke had 
no more implacable enemy; there was the young 
Galeazzo Sforza of Catignola, bastard brother to Gio- 
vanni Sforza, the divorced husband of Cesare's lovely 
sister Lucrezia, lately dispossessed by the Duke of his 
tyranny of Pesaro; and there were four others, three 
patricians, who are of little account, and lastly Pietro 
Corvo, that notorious, plebeian Forlivese scoundrel 
who under the name of Corvinus Trismegistus had 
once to his undoing practised magic. In spite of all 
that already he sufi^ered by it he could not refrain 
from thrusting himself into the afl^airs of the great and 
seeking to control the destinies of princes. 

Now, no man knew better than the astute and 
watchful Duke of Valentinois the art of discovering 
traitors. He did not wait for them to reveal them- 
selves by their actions — for he knew that by then it 
might be too late to deal with them. He preferred to 
unmask their conspiracies whilst they were maturing. 
And of all the methods that he employed the one to 


which he trusted most, the one which most often had 
done his work for him in secrecy and almost independ- 
ently of himself, was that of the decoy. 

Suspecting — and with excellent grounds — that 
treason was hatching in that gloomy palace of Rani- 
eri's, overlooking the Marecchia, he bade his secre- 
tary Agabito put it abroad through his numerous 
agents that several of the Duke's prominent officers 
were disaffected towards him. Particular stress was 
laid upon the disaffection of an ambitious and able 
young captain named Angelo Graziani, towards 
whom it was urged that the Duke had behaved with 
marked injustice, so that this Graziani notoriously 
but awaited an opportunity to be avenged. 

This gossip spread with the speed of all vile ru- 
mours. It was culled in the taverns by the Lord Rani- 
eri's spies, who bore it swiftly to their master. With 
Graziani's name was coupled that of Ramiro de Lor- 
qua, at present the Duke's governor of Cesena, and 
for a while Ranieri and Sinibaldi hesitated between 
the two. In the end their choice fell upon Graziani. 
De Lorqua was the more powerful man and wielded 
the greater influence. But their needs did not require 
so much. Graziani was now temporarily in command 
of the Duke's own patrician bodyguard, and their 
plans were of such a nature that it was precisely a 
man in that position who could afford them the op- 
portunity they sought. Moreover, the gossip con- 
cerning Graziani was more positive than that which 
concerned De Lorqua. There was even in the former 
case some independent evidence to support the tale 
that was abroad. 

The young captain himself was utterly unconscious 


alike of these rumours and of the test to which his 
fidelity to the Duke was about to be submitted. 
Therefore he was amazed when on the last day of Oc- 
tober, as Prince Sinibaldi's visit to Rimini was draw- 
ing to its close, he found himself suddenly accosted by 
the Lord Ranieri with a totally unexpected invitation. 

Graziani was in the ducal antechamber of the 
Rocca at the time, and Ranieri was departing after 
a brief audience with his highness. Our gentleman 
threaded his way through the courtly throng, straight 
to the captain's side. 

"Captain Graziani," he said. 

The captain, a tall, athletic fellow, whose plain rai- 
ment of steel and leather detached him from his silken 
surroundings, bowed stiffly. 

"At your service, my lord," he replied, addressing 
Ranieri thus for the first time. 

"Prince Sinibaldi, who is my exalted guest, has re- 
marked you," he said, lowering his voice to a confi- 
dential tone. "He does you the honour to desire your 
better acquaintance. He has heard of you, and has, I 
think, a proposal to make to you that should lead to 
your rapid advancement." 

Graziani, taken thus by surprise, flushed with grati- 
fied pride. 

" But I am the Duke's servant," he objected. 

"A change may commend itself to you when you 
learn what is offered," replied Ranieri. "The Prince 
honours you with the request that you wait upon him 
at my house at the first hour of night." 

A little dazzled and flustered by the invitation, 
Graziani was surprised into accepting it. There could 
be no harm, no disloyalty to his Duke, he reasoned in 


that brief moment of thought, in hearing what might 
be this proposal. After all, the exchange of service 
was permissible in a soldier of fortune. He bowed his 
acknowledgmen t. 

"I will obey," he said, whereupon with a nod and a 
smile Ranieri went his ways. 

It was only afterwards when Graziani came to con- 
sider the matter more closely that suspicion and hesi- 
tation were aroused in him. Ranieri had said that the 
Prince had remarked him. How should that have 
happened since, as he now reflected, he had never 
been in Sinibaldi's presence? It was odd, he thought; 
and his thoughts, having started upon such a train as 
this, made swift progress. He knew enough of the 
politics of his day to be aware of the feelings enter- 
tained for Cesare Borgia by all Venetians; and he was 
sufficiently equipped with worldly wisdom to know 
that a man who, like Ranieri, could fawn upon the 
Duke who had dethroned that Malatesta in whose 
favour and confidence he had so lately stood, was not 
a man to be trusted. 

Thus you see Graziani's doubts becoming suspi- 
cions; and very soon those suspicions grew to certainty. 
He scented treason in the proposal that Sinibaldi was 
to make him. If he went, he would most probably 
walk into a trap from which there might be no with- 
drawal; for when traitors reveal themselves they can- 
not for their own lives* sake spare the life of one 
who, being invited, refuses to become a party to that 
treason. Already Graziani saw himself in fancy with 
a hole in his heart, his limp body floating seaward 
down the Marecchia on the ebbing tide. Ranieri's 
house, he bethought him, was conveniently situated 
for such measures. 


But if these forebodings urged him to forget his 
promise to wait upon Prince Sinibaldi, yet ambition 
whispered to him that after all he might be the loser 
through perceiving shadows where there was no real 
substance. Venice was in need of condottieri; the Re- 
public was wealthy and paid her servants well; in her 
service the chances of promotion might be more rapid 
than in Cesare Borgia's, since already almost every 
captain of fortune in Italy was serving under the ban- 
ner of the Duke. It was possible that in this business 
there might be no more than the Lord Ranieri had 
stated. He would go. Only a coward would remain 
absent out of fears for which grounds were not clearly 
apparent. But only a fool would neglect to take his 
measures for retreat or rescue in case his suspicions 
should be proved by the event well founded. 

Therefore, when on the stroke of the first hour of 
night Captain Graziani presented himself at the Rani- 
eri Palace, he had ambushed a half-score of men about 
the street under the command of his faithful ancient 
Barbo. To Barbo at parting he had given all the or- 
ders necessary. 

"If I am in difficulties or in danger I shall contrive 
to smash a window. Take that for your signal, assem- 
ble your men, and break into the house at once. Let 
one of your knaves go round and watch the windows 
overlooking the Marecchia, in case I should be forced 
to give the signal from that side." 

These measures taken he went to meet the Venetian 
envoy with an easy mind. 


THE young condottiero's tread was firm and his 
face calm when oneof Sinibaldi's turbaned Moor- 
ish slaves, into whose care he had been delivered by 
the lackey who admitted him, ushered him into the 
long low room of the mezzanine where the Venetian 
awaited him. 

He had deemed the circumstance of the Moorish 
slave in itself suspicious; it seemed to argue that in 
this house of the Lord Ranieri's the Prince was some- 
thing more than guest, since his servants did the offi- 
ces of ushers. And now, as he stood on the threshold 
blinking in the brilliant light of the chamber, and per- 
ceived that in addition to the Prince and the Lord 
Ranieri there were six others present, he conceived it 
certain that his worst suspicions would be here con- 

This room, into which he now stepped, ran through 
the entire depth of the house, so that its windows 
overlooked the street at one end and the river Ma- 
recchia, near the Bridge of Augustus, at the other. It 
had an air at once rich and gloomy; the walls were 
hung with sombre tapestries, the carpets spread upon 
the floor of wood mosaics were of a deep purple that 
was almost black, and amid its sparse furnishings 
there was a deal of ebony looking the more funereal 
by virtue of its ivory inlays. It was lighted by an 
alabaster-globed lamp set high upon the ponder- 
ous over-mantel and by silver candle-branches on the 
long table in mid-apartment about which the com- 


pany was seated when Graziani entered. An enor- 
mous fire was roaring on the hearth, for the weather 
had lately set in raw and cold. 

As the door was softly closed behind Graziani, and 
as he stood adjusting his eyes to the strong light, the 
Lord Ranieri stepped forward with purring words of 
welcome, too cordial from one in his lordship's posi- 
tion to one in Graziani's. With these he conducted the 
captain towards the table. From his seat at the head 
of it rose a tall and very stately gentleman with a long 
olive countenance that was rendered the longer by a 
brown pointed beard, who added a welcome of his 
own to the welcome which the Lord Ranieri had al- 
ready uttered. 

He was dressed all in black, but with a rare ele- 
gance, and upon his breast flashed a medallion of dia- 
monds worth a nobleman's ransom. Graziani did not 
require to be told that this was Prince Sinibaldi, the 
envoy extraordinary of the Most Serene. 

The condottiero bowed low, yet with a soldierly 
stiffness and a certain aloofness in his bearing that he 
could not quite dissemble. He bowed, indeed, as a 
swordsman bows to his adversary before engaging, and 
his countenance remained grave and set. 

Ranieri drew up a chair for him to the table at 
which the other six remained seated, their twelve 
eyes intent upon the newcomer's face. Graziani gave 
them back look for look, but of them all the only one 
whose face he knew was Galeazzo Sforzaof Catignola, 
whom he had seen at Pesaro; for it was this Galeazzo 
himself who in his brother's stead had surrendered 
the place to Cesare Borgia. The captain's glance was 
next arrested by Pietro Corvo, the Forlivese who once 


had practised magic in Urbino. The fellow detached 
from this patrician group as he must, for that matter, 
detach from any group in which he might chance to 
find himself. His face was as the face of a corpse; it 
was yellow as wax, and his skin was as a skin of parch- 
ment drawn tight across his prominent cheek-bones, 
whence it sagged into the hollow cheeks and fell in 
wrinkles about the lean, sinewy neck. His lank, thin- 
ning hair had faded to the colour of ashes; his lips 
were bloodless; indeed, no part of his countenance 
seemed alive save only the eyes, which glittered as if 
he had the fever. He was repulsive beyond descrip- 
tion, and no man who looked on him for the first time 
could repress a shudder. 

One hand only remained him — his left — which 
was as yellow and gnarled as a hen's foot. Its fellow 
he had left in Urbino together with his tongue, hav- 
ing been deprived of one and the other by order of 
Cesare Borgia whom he had defamed. That punish- 
ment was calculated to disable him from either writ- 
ing or uttering further slanders; but he was fast learn- 
ing to overcome the disabilities to which it had sub- 
jected him, and already he was beginning to write 
with that claw-like left hand that remained to him. 

Well had it been for him had he confined himself to 
the practice of magic under his imposing name of 
Corvinus Trismegistus. Being a fertile-witted rogue 
he had thriven exceedingly at that rascally trade, and 
might have continued to amass a fortune had he not 
foolishly drawn upon himself by his incautious slan- 
ders the attention of the Duke of Valentinois. 

Having now no tongue left wherewith to beguile the 
credulous, nor sufficient magic to grow a fresh one. 


his trade was ruined, and his hatred of the man who 
had ruined it was virulent, the more virulent, no 
doubt, since his expression of it had been temporarily 

His fierce, glittering eyes fastened mistrustfully 
upon Graziani as the young soldier took the chair 
that was offered him by his host. He parted his 
bloodless lips to make a horrible croaking sound that 
reminded Graziani of frogs on a hot night of summer, 
whilst he accompanied it by gestures to the Venetian 
which the captain did not attempt to understand. 

The Lord Ranieri resumed his seat at the table's 
foot. At its head the Prince remained standing, and 
he pacified the mute by a nod conveying to him the 
assurance that he was understood. Then from the 
breast of his doublet, two buttons of which were un- 
fastened, the Venetian drew a small crucifix beauti- 
fully wrought in ivory upon gold. Holding it between 
his graceful, tapering fingers, he addressed the con- 
dottiero solemnly. 

"When we shall have made known to you the 
reason for which we have sought your presence here 
to-night, Messer Graziani," said he, "it shall be yours 
to determine whether you will join hands with us, 
and lend us your aid in the undertaking which we 
have in mind. Should you elect not to do so, be your 
reason what it may, you shall be free to depart as 
you have come. But first you must make solemn oath 
engaging yourself neither by word spoken or written, 
nor yet by deed, to divulge aught to any man of what 
may be revealed to you of our designs." 

The Prince paused, and stood waiting. Graziani 
reared his young head, and he could almost hav« 


laughed outright at this discovery of how shrewd and 
just had been the suspicions that had assailed him. 
He looked about him slowly, finding himself the goal 
of every eye, and every countenance alive with a mis- 
trust and hostility that nothing could quiet short of 
that oath demanded of him. 

It comforted him in that moment to think of Barbo 
and his knaves waiting below in case they should be 
needed. If Graziani knew men at all, he would be 
likely to need them very soon, he thought. 

Sinibaldi leaned forward supporting himself upon 
his left hand, whilst with his right he gently pushed 
the crucifix down the table towards the captain. 

"First upon that sacred symbol of Our Redeemer 
. . ." he was beginning, when Graziani abruptly thrust 
back his chair and rose. 

He knew enough. Here for certain was a conspir- 
acy against the State or against the life of his lord the 
Duke of Valentinois. It needed no more words to tell 
him that. He was neither spy nor informer, yet if he 
heard more and then kept secret he would himself be 
a party to their treason. 

"My lord Prince," he said, "here surely is some 
mistake. What you may be about to propose to me I 
do not know. But I do know — for it is abundantly 
plain — that it is no such proposal as my Lord Ranieri 
had led me to expect." 

There was a savage, incoherent growl from the 
mute, but the others remained watchfully silent, 
waiting for the soldier to proceed, since clearly he had 
not yet done. 

"It is not my way," he proceeded gravely, "to 
thrust myself blindly into any business, and make 


oath upon matters that are unknown to me. Suffer 
me, therefore, to take my leave of you at once. Sirs," 
he included the entire company in his bow, "a happy 

He stepped back from the table clearly and firmly 
resolved upon departure, and on the instant every 
man present was upon his feet and every hand was 
upon a weapon. They were rendered desperate by 
their realization of the mistake that had been made. 
That mistake they must repair in the only way that 
was possible. Ranieri sprang away from the foot of 
the table, and flung himself between the soldier and 
the door, barring his exit. 

Checked thus, Graziani looked at Sinibaldi, but the 
smile upon the Venetian's saturnine countenance was 
not reassuring. It occurred to the captain that the 
time had come to break a window as a signal to 
Barbo, and he wondered would they prevent him 
from reaching one. First, however, he made appeal 
to Ranieri who stood directly in his way. 

*' My lord," he said, and his voice was firm almost 
to the point of haughtiness, " I came hither in friendli- 
ness, bidden to your house with no knowledge of what 
might await me. I trust to your honour, my lord, to 
see that I depart in like case — in friendliness, and 
with no knowledge of what is here toward." 

"No knowledge?" said Ranieri, and he laughed 
shortly. His countenance had lost by now every trace 
of its habitual joviality. "No knowledge, eh? But 
suspicions, no doubt, and these suspicions you will 
voice . . ." 

"Let him take the oath," cried the clear young 
voice of Galeazzo Sforza. "Let him swear to keep 
silent upon ..." 


But the steely accents of Sinibaldi cut in sharply 
upon that speech. 

" Do you not see, Galeazzo, that we have misjudged 
our man? Is not his temper plain?" 

Graziani, however, confined his glance and his in- 
sistence to Ranieri. 

" My lord," he said again, " it lies upon your honour 
that I shall go forth in safety. At your bidding . . ." 

His keen ears caught a stealthy sound behind him, 
and he whipped round sharply. Even as he turned 
Pietro Corvo, who had crept up softly, leapt upon 
him, fierce as a rat, his dagger raised to strike — in- 
tending thus to make an end. Before Graziani could 
move to defend himself the blade had descended full 
upon his breast. Encountering there the links of the 
shirt of mail he wore beneath his quilted doublet — 
for he had omitted no precautions — it broke off at 
the hilt under the force that drove it. 

Then Graziani seized that wretched wisp of human- 
ity by the breast of his mean jacket, and dashed him 
violently across the room. The mute hurtled into 
Alviano, who stood midway between the table and 
one of the windows. Alviano, thrown off his balance 
by the impact, staggered in his turn and reeled against 
an ebony pedestal surmounted by a marble Cupid. 
The Cupid, thus dislodged, went crashing through 
the casement into the street below. 

Now, this was more than Graziani had intended, 
but it was certainly no more than he could have de- 
sired. The signal to Barbo had been given, and no 
one present any the wiser. It heartened him. He 
smiled grimly, whipped out his long sword, swung 
his cloak upon his left arm, and rushed thus upon 


Ranieri, forced for the moment to leave his back 

Ranieri, unprepared for the onslaught, and startled 
by its suddenness, swung aside, leaving the captain a 
clear way. But Graziani was not so mad as to at- 
tempt to open the door. He knew well that whilst he 
paused to seize and raise the latch a half-dozen blades 
would be through his back before the thing could be 
accomplished. Instead, having reached the door, he 
swung round, and, setting his back to it, faced that 
murderous company as it swooped down upon him 
with naked weapons. 

Five men confronted him immediately. Behind 
them stood Sinibaldi, his sword drawn against the 
need to use it, yet waiting meanwhile, preferring that 
such work should be done by these underlings of his. 

Yet, though they were five to one, Graziani's sud- 
den turn to face them, and his poised preparedness, 
gave them a moment's pause. In that moment he 
reckoned up his chances. He found them slight, but 
not quite hopeless, since all that was incumbent on 
him was to ward their blows and gain some instants 
until Barbo and his men could come to his assistance. 

Another moment and they had closed with him, 
their whirling blades athirst for his life. He made the 
best defence that a man could make against such an 
onslaught, and a wonderful defence it was. He was 
well trained in arms as in all bodily exercises, supple 
of joint, quick of movement, long of limb, and with 
muscles that were all steel and whipcord — indeed, 
a very pentathlos. 

He warded as much with his cloaked arm as with 
his sword, but he had no chance, nor for that matter 


any thought, of taking the offensive in his turn. He 
knew that a lunge or thrust or cut at any single one 
of them, even if successful, must leave an opening 
through which he would be cut down ere he could 
make recovery. He would attack when Barbo came, 
and he would see to it then that not one of these 
cowardly assassins, of these dastardly traitors, was 
left alive. Meanwhile he must be content to ward, 
praying God that Barbo did not long delay. 

For some moments fortune favoured him, and his 
shirt of mail proved his best friend. Indeed, it was 
not until Alviano's sword blade was shivered in a 
powerful lunge that caught Graziani full in the mid- 
dle of the body, that those gentlemen realized that 
the condottiero's head was the only part of him that 
was vulnerable. It was Sinibaldi who told them so, 
shouting it fiercely as he shouldered aside the now 
disarmed Alviano, and stepped into the place from 
which he thrust him. With death in his eyes the 
Prince now led the attack upon that man who made 
so desperate a defence without chance of breaking 
ground or lessening the number of his assailants. 

Suddenly Sinibaldi's blade licked in and out again 
with lightning swiftness in a feint that culminated in 
a second thrust, and Graziani felt his sword arm sud- 
denly benumbed. To realize what had happened and 
to readjust the matter was with the captain the work 
of one single thought. He caught his sword in his left 
hand, that so he might continue his defence, even as 
Sinibaldi by a turn of the wrist made a cutting stroke 
at his bare head. Perforce Graziani was slow to the 
parry; the fraction of a second lost in transferring his 
sword to the left hand and the further circumstance 


that his left arm was hampered by the cloak he had 
wound about it, left too great an advantage with Sini- 
baldi. Still, Graziani's blade, though too late to put 
the other's aside, was yet in time to break the force 
of the blow as it descended. The edge was deflected, 
but not enough. If it did not open his skull as was 
intended, at least it dealt him a long slanting scalp>- 

The condottiero felt the room rock and heave un- 
der his feet. Then he dropped his sword, and lean- 
ing against the wall, whilst his assailants checked to 
watch him, he very gently slithered down it and sat 
huddled in a heap on the floor, the blood from his 
wound streaming down over his face. Sinibaldi short- 
ened his sword, intent upon making quite sure of 
his victim by driving the steel through his windpipe. 
But even as he was in the act of aiming the stroke, 
he was suddenly arrested by the horrible, vehement 
outcry of the mute, who had remained at the broken 
window, and by a thunder of blows that fell simulta- 
neously upon the door below accompanied by a sud- 
den call to open. 

That sound smote terror into the conspirators. It 
aroused them to a sense of what they were doing, and 
brought to their minds the thought of Cesare Borgia's 
swift and relentless justice which spared no man, pa- 
trician or plebeian. And so they stood limply stricken, 
at gaze, their ears straining to listen, whilst below the 
blows upon the door were repeated more vehemently 
than before. 

Ranieri swore thickly and horribly. "We are 
trapped, betrayed!" 

Uproar followed. The eight plotters looked this 


way and that, as if seeking a way out, each gave coun- 
sels and asked questions in a breath, none heeding 
none, until at last the mute, having compelled their 
attention by his excited croaks, showed them the road 
of escape. 

He crossed the length of the room at a run, and 
nimble as a cat, he leapt upon a marble table that 
stood before the casement overlooking the river, from 
which the house rose almost sheer. He never so 
much as paused to open it. The acquaintance he had 
already made with the methods of Borgia justice so 
quickened his terrors to a frenzy that he hurled him- 
self bodily at the closed window, and shivering it by 
the force of the impact went through it and down in a 
shower of broken glass to the black icy waters below. 

They followed him as sheep follow their bellwether. 
One after another they leapt upon the marble table; 
and thence through the gap he had made they plunged 
down into the river. Not one of them had the wit in 
that breathless moment to pause to consider which 
way the tide might be running. Had it chanced to 
have been upon the ebb it must have swept them out 
to sea, and none of them would further have troubled 
the destinies of Italy. Fortunately for them, however, 
it was flowing; and so it bore them upwards towards 
the Bridge of Augustus, where they were able unseen 
to effect a landing — all save Pietro Corvo, the mute, 
who was drowned, and Sinibaldi, who remained be- 

Like Graziani, Sinibaldi, too, wore a shirt of mail 
beneath his doublet, as a precaution proper in one 
who engaged in such hazardous methods of under- 
ground warfare. It was, indeed, an almost inveterate 


habit with him. Less impetuous than those others, 
he paused to calculate his chances, and bethought 
him that it was odds this armour would sink him in 
the flood. So he stayed to doff it first. 

Vainly had he called upon the others to wait for 
him. Ranieri had answered him standing upon the 
table ready for the leap. 

"Wait.^ Body of God! Are you mad? Is this a 
time to wait?" Yet he delayed to explain the precise 
and urgent need to depart. "We must run no risk of 
capture. For now more than ever must the thing be 
done, or we are all dead men — and it must be done 
to-night as was planned. Excess of preparation has 
gone near to undoing us. We could have contrived 
excellently without that fool," and he jerked a thumb 
towards Graziani, "as I told your excellency. And 
we shall contrive no less excellently without him as 
it is. But contrive we must, else, I say again, we 
are dead men — all of us." And upon that he went 
through the window and down into the water, after 
the others, with a thudding splash. 

With fingers that haste made clumsy, Sinibaldi 
tugged at the buttons of his doublet, hampered by 
having tucked his sword under his arm. But scarcely 
had Ranieri vanished into the night than the door 
below was flung inward with a crash. There followed 
a sound of angry voices, as the servants of the house- 
hold were thrust roughly aside, and ringing steps came 
clattering up the stairs. 

Sinibaldi, still tugging at the buttons of his doub- 
let, sprang desperately towards the window, and won- 
dered for a moment whether he should take the risk 
of drowning. But even as he stood f>oised for the leap. 


he remembered suddenly the immunity he derived 
from the office that was his. After all, as the envoy of 
Venice he was inviolable, a man upon whom no finger 
was to be laid by any without provoking the resent- 
ment of the Republic. He had been over-anxious. He 
had nothing to fear where nothing could be proved 
against him. Not even Graziani could have said 
enough to imperil the sacred person of an ambassa- 
dor, and it was odds that Graziani would never say 
anything again. 

So he sheathed his sword, readjusted his doublet, 
and composed himself. Indeed, he actually went the 
length of opening the door to the invaders, calling to 
guide them: 

"This way! This way!" 

They swarmed in, all ten of them, the grizzled an- 
cient at their head, so furiously that they bore the 
Prince backwards, and all but trampled on him. 

Barbo checked them in mid-chamber, and looked 
round bewildered, until his eyes alighted upon his 
fallen, blood-bedabbled captain huddled at the foot of 
the wall. At the sight he roared like a bull to express 
his anger, what time his followers closed about the 
saturnine Venetian. 

With as great dignity as was possible to a man at 
such a disadvantage, Sinibaldi sought to hold them 

"You touch me at your peril," he warned them. 
"I am Prince Marcantonio Sinibaldi, the Envoy of 

The ancient swung half-round to answer him, snarl- 

"Were you Prince Lucifer, Envoy of Hell, you 


should still account for what was doing here and how 
my captain came by his hurt. Make him fast!" 

The men-at-arms obeyed with a very ready will, for 
Graziani was beloved of all that rode with him. It was 
in vain that the Venetian stormed and threatened, 
pleaded and protested. They treated him as if they 
had never heard tell of the sacredness with which the 
person of an ambassador is invested. They disarmed 
him, bound his wrists behind him, like any common 
malefactor's, and thrust him contumeliously from the 
room down the stairs, and so, without hat or cloak, 
out into the murky wind-swept street. 

Four of them remained above at the ancient's bid- 
ding, whilst he himself went down upon his knees 
beside his fallen captain to look to his condition. 
And at once Graziani began to show signs of life. 
Indeed, he had shown that he was not dead the mo- 
ment the door had closed after the departing men. 

Supported now by Barbo he sat up, and with his 
left hand smeared away some of the blood that almost 
blinded him, and looked dully at his ancient, who 
grunted and swore to express the joyous reaction 
from his despair. 

" I am alive, Barbo," he said, though his voice came 
feebly. " But, Body of God! you were no more than in 
time to find me so. Had you been a minute later you 
would have been too late for me — aye, and perhaps 
for the Duke too." He smiled faintly. "When I 
found that valour would no longer avail me I had re- 
course to craft. It is well to play the fox when you 
cannot play the lion. With this gash over the head 
and my face smeared in blood, I pretended to be done 
for. But I was conscious throughout, and it is a grim 


thing, Barbo, consciously to take the chance of death 
without daring to lift a finger to avert it lest thereby 
you hastened it on. I . . ." he gulped, and his head 
hung down, showing that his strength was ebbing. 
Then he rallied desperately, almost by sheer force of 
will. There was something he must say, ere every- 
thing was blotted out as he felt it would be soon. 
"Get you to my Lord Duke, Barbo. Make haste! 
Tell him that here was some treason plotting . . . 
something that is to be done to-night . . . that will 
still be done by those who escaped. Bid him look to 
himself. Hasten, man. Say I . . ." 

"Their names! Their names!" cried the ancient 
urgently, seeing his captain on the point of swooning. 

Graziani reared his head again, and slowly opened 
his dull eyes. But he did not answer. His lids drooped, 
and his head lolled sideways against his ancient's 
shoulder. It was as if by an effort of sheer will he had 
but kept a grip of his senses until he could utter that 
urgent warning. Then, his duty done, he relinquished 
that painful hold, and allowed himself to slip into the 
peace and the shadows of unconsciousness^ exhausted. 


THE great need for urgency, the chief reason why 
"the thing" must be done that night, as the 
Lord Ranieri had said before he dived from his win- 
dow into the river, lay in the circumstance that it was 
the Duke's last night in the city of Rimini. On the 
morrow he marched with his army upon Faenza and 
the Manfredi. 

It had therefore seemed proper to the councillors 
and patricians of Rimini to mark their entire submis- 
sion to his authority by a banquet in his honour at the 
Palazzo Pubblico. At this banquet were assembled 
all Riminese that were noble or notable, and a great 
number of repatriated patricians, thtfuorusciti whom 
upon one pretext or another the hated Malatesta ty- 
rant had driven from his dominions that he might en- 
rich himself by the confiscation of their possessions. 
Jubilantly came they now with their ladies to do hom- 
age to the Duke who had broken the power and deliv- 
ered the State from the thraldom of the iniquitous 
Pandolfaccio, assured that his justice would right to 
the full the wrongs which they had suffered. 

Present, too, were the envoys and ambassadors of 
several Italian powers sent to felicitate Cesare Borgia 
upon this latest conquest. But it was in vain that the 
young Duke turned his hazel eyes this way and that in 
quest of Marcantonio Sinibaldi, the princely envoy 
extraordinary of the Most Serene Republic. The en- 
voy extraordinary was nowhere to be seen in that 
courtly gathering, and the Duke, who missed nothing 


and who disliked leaving riddles unsolved — particu- 
larly when they concerned a State that was hostile to 
himself — was vexed to know the reason of this ab- 

It was the more remarkable since Prince Sinibaldi's 
lady, a stately blonde woman, whose stomacher was 
a flashing cuirass of gems, was seated near Cesare's 
right hand, between the sober black velvet of the 
President of the Council and the flaming scarlet of 
the handsome Cardinal legate, thus filling the posi- 
tion to which she was entitled by her lofty rank and 
the respect due to the great Republic which her hus- 
band represented. 

Another whose absence the Duke might have re- 
marked was, of course, the Lord Ranieri, who had ex- 
cused himself, indeed, to the President upon a plea 
of indisposition. But Valentinois was too much con- 
cerned with the matter of Sinibaldi's whereabouts. 
He lounged in his great chair, a long, supple incarna- 
tion of youth and vigour, in a tight-fitting doublet of 
cloth of gold, with jewelled bands at neck and wrists 
and waist. His pale, beautiful face was thoughtful, 
and his tapering fingers strayed ever and anon to the 
tips of his tawny silken beard. 

The banquet touched its end, and the floor of the 
great hall was being cleared by the seneschal to make 
room for the players sent from Mantua by the beau- 
tiful Marchioness Gonzaga who were to perform a 
comedy for the company's delectation. 

It was not comedy, however, but tragedy, all unsus- 
pected, that impended, and the actor who suddenly 
strode into that hall to speak its prologue, thrusting 
rudely aside the lackeys who would have hindered 


him, misliking his wild looks, was Barbo, the ancient 
of Graziani's company. 

" My lord," he cried, panting for breath. " My lord 
Duke!" And his hands fiercely cuffed the grooms who 
still sought to bar his passage. "Out of my way, oafs! 
I tell you that I must speak to his highness. Out of 
my way!" 

The company had fallen silent, some startled by 
this intrusion, others conceiving that it might be the 
opening of the comedy that was prepared. Into that 
silence cut the Duke's voice, crisp and metallic: 

"Let him approach!" 

Instantly the grooms ceased their resistance, glad 
enough to do so, for Barbo's hands were heavy and 
he was prodigal in the use of them. Released, he 
strode up the hall and came to a standstill, stiff and 
soldierly before the Duke, saluting almost curtly in 
his eagerness. 

"Who are you?" rapped his highness. 

"My name is Barbo," the soldier answered. "I am 
an ancient in the condotta of Messer Angelo Gra- 

"Why do you come thus? What brings you?" 

"Treason, my lord — that is what brings me," 
roared the soldier, setting the company all agog. 

Cesare alone showed no sign of excitement. His 
eyes calmly surveyed this messenger, waiting. There- 
upon Barbo plunged headlong into the speech he 
had prepared. He spoke gustily, abruptly, his voice 
shaken with the passion he could not quite suppress. 

"My captain, Messer Graziani, lies speechless and 
senseless with a broken head, else were he here in my 
place, my lord, and perhaps with a fuller tale. I can 


but tell what little I know, adding the little that him- 
self he told me ere his senses left him. 

"By his command we — ten men of his company 
and myself — watched a certain house into which he 
went to-night at the first hour, with orders to break 
in should we receive a certain signal. That signal we 
received. Acting instantly upon it we ... " 

"Wait, man," the Duke cut in. "Let us have this 
tale in order and in plain words. A certain house, you 
say. What house was that.''" 

"The Lord Ranieri's palace, my lord." 

A stir of increasing interest rustled through the 
company, but dominating it, and audible to him be- 
cause it came from his neighbourhood immediately on 
his right, the Duke caught a gasp, a faint half-cry of 
one who had been startled into sudden fear. That 
sound arrested his attention, and he shot a swift side- 
long glance in the direction whence it had come, to 
discover that the Princess Sinibaldi had sunk back in 
her chair, her cheeks deadly white, her blue eyes wide 
with panic. Even as he looked and saw, his swiftly 
calculating mind had mastered certain facts and had 
found the probable solution of the riddle that earlier 
had intrigued him — the riddle of Sinibaldi's absence. 
He thought that he knew now where the Prince had 
been that evening, though he had yet to learn the 
nature of this treason of which Barbo spoke, and in 
which he could not doubt that Sinibaldi was engaged. 

Even as this understanding flashed across his mind, 
the ancient was resuming his interrupted narrative. 

"At the signal, then, my lord, we broke into ..." 

"Wait!" the Duke again checked him, raising a 
hand which instantly imposed silence. 


There followed a brief pause, Barbo standing stiffly 
waiting for leave to continue, impatient of the re- 
straint imposed upon his eagerness. Cesare's glance, 
calm and so inscrutable as to appear almost unseeing, 
had passed from the Princess to Messer Paolo Capello, 
the Venetian Orator, seated a little way down the hall 
on the Duke's left. Cesare noted the man's tense 
attitude, the look of apprehension on his round white 
face, and beheld in those signs the confirmation of 
what already he had conjectured. 

So Venice was engaged in this. Those implacable 
traders of the Rialto were behind this happening at 
Ranieri's house in which one of the Duke's captains 
had received a broken head. And the ordinary envoy 
of Venice was anxiously waiting to learn what might 
have befallen the envoy extraordinary, so that he 
might promptly take his measures. 

Cesare knew the craft of the Most Serene and of its 
ambassadors. He was here on swampy, treacherous 
ground, and he must pick his way with care. Certainly 
Messer Capello must not hear what this soldier might 
have to tell, for then — prcemonituSy pramunitus. In 
the orator's uncertainty of what had passed might 
lie Cesare's strength to deal with Venice, perhaps to 
unmask her. 

"We are too public here," he said to Barbo shortly, 
and on that he rose. 

Out of deference the entire company rose with him 
— all save one. Sinibaldi's lady, indeed, went so far 
as to make the effort, but faint as she was with fear, 
her limbs refused to do their office, and she kept her 
seat, a circumstance which Cesare did not fail to note. 

He waved a hand to the banqueters, smiling ur- 


banely. "Sirs, and ladies," he said, "I pray you keep 
your seats. It is not my desire that you should be dis- 
turbed by this." Then he turned to the President of 
the Council. "If you, sir, will give me leave apart a 
moment with this fellow . . ." 

"Assuredly, my lord, assuredly!" cried the Presi- 
dent nervously, flung into confusion by this defer- 
ence from one of the Duke's exalted quality. "This 
way, Magnificent. This closet here . . . You will be 

Stammering, fluttering, he had stepped down the 
hall, the Duke following, and Barbo clanking after 
them. The President opened a door, and, drawing 
aside, he bowed low and waved the Duke into a small 

Cesare passed in with Barbo following. The door 
closed after them, and a murmur reached them of the 
babble that broke forth beyond it. 

The room was small, but richly furnished, possibly 
against the chance of its use being desired by his high- 
ness. The middle of its tessellated floor was occupied 
by a table with massively carved supporting Cupids, 
near which stood a great chair upholstered in crim- 
son velvet. The room was lighted by a cluster of 
wax candles in a candle-branch richly wrought in the 
shape of a group of scaling titans. 

Cesare flung himself into the chair, and turned to 

"Now your tale," he said shortly. 

Barbo threw wide at last the floodgates of his 
eagerness, and let his tale flow forth. He related in 
fullest detail the happenings of that night at Ranieri's 
palace, repeating faithfully the words that Graziani 


had uttered, and concluding on the announcement 
that he had captured at least one of the conspirators 
— the Prince Marcantonio Sinibaldi. 

" I trust that in this I have done well, my lord," the 
fellow added with some hesitation. "It seemed no 
less than Messer Graziani ordered. Yet his magni- 
ficence spoke of being an ambassador of the Most 
Serene. . . ." 

"The Devil take the Most Serene and her ambas- 
sadors," flashed Cesare, betrayed into it by his in- 
ward seething rage. On the instant he suppressed all 
show of feeling. " Be content. You have done well," 
he said shortly. 

He rose, turned his back on the ancient, and strode 
to the uncurtained gleaming windows. There he stood 
a moment, staring out into the starlit night, fingering 
his beard, his brow dark with thought. Then he came 
slowly back, his head bowed, nor did he raise it until 
he stood again before the ancient. 

"You have no hint — no suspicion of the nature of 
this conspiracy? Of what is this thing they were plan- 
ning and are still to attempt to-night?" he asked. 

"None, my lord. I have said all I know." 

"Nor who were the men that escaped?" 

" Nor that, my lord, save that one of them would no 
doubt be the Lord Ranieri." 

"Ah, but the others . . . and we do not even know 
how many there were . . ." 

Cesare checked. He had bethought him of the 
Princess Sinibaldi. This urgently needed informa- 
tion might be wrung from her, or as much of it as lay 
within her knowledge. That she possessed such knowl- 
edge her bearing had proclaimed. He smiled darkly. 


"Desire Messer the President of the Council to 
attend me here together with the Princess Sinibaldi. 
Then do you await my orders. And see to it that you 
say no word of this to any." 

Barbo saluted and withdrew upon that errand. 
Cesare paced slowly back to the window, and waited, 
his brow against the cool pane, his mind busy until 
the door reopened and the President ushered in the 
Princess. The President came avid for news. Disap- 
pointment awaited him. 

"I but desired you, sir, as an escort for this lady," 
Cesare informed him. "If you will give us leave to- 
gether . . ." 

Stifling his regrets and murmuring his acquiescence, 
the man effaced himself. When they were alone to- 
gether, Cesare turned to the woman and observed the 
deathly pallor of her face, the agitated gallop of her 
bosom. He judged her shrewdly as one whose tongue 
would soon be loosed by fear. 

He bowed to her, and with a smile and the very 
courtliest and deferential grace he proffered her the 
great gilt and crimson chair. In silence she sank into 
it, limply and grateful for its support. She dabbed her 
lips with a gilt-edged handkerchief, her startled eyes 
never leaving the Duke's face, as if their glance were 
held in fascinated subjection. 

Standing by the table at which she now sat, Cesare 
rested his finger-tips upon the edge of it, and leaned 
slightly across towards her. 

"I have sent for you. Madonna," he said, his tone 
very soft and gentle, "to afford you the opportunity 
of rescuing your husband's neck from the hands of 
my strangler." 


In itself it was a terrifying announcement, and it 
was rendered the more terrifying by the gentle, emo- 
tionless tones in which it was uttered. It did not fail 
of its calculated effect. 

" O God ! " gasped the afflicted woman, and clutched 
her white bosom with both hands. "Gesu! 1 knew it! 
My heart had told me." 

"Do not alarm yourself. Madonna, I implore you. 
There is not the cause," he assured her, and no voice 
could have been more soothing. "The Prince Sini- 
baldi is below, awaiting my pleasure. But I have no 
pleasure. Princess, that is not your pleasure. Your 
husband's life is in your own hands. I place it there. 
He lives or dies as you decree." 

She looked up into his beautiful young face, into 
those hazel eyes that looked too gentle now, and she 
cowered abjectly, cringing before him. She was left 
in doubt of the meaning of his ambiguous words, 
and his almost wooing manner. And this, too, he had 
intended; deliberate in his ambiguity, using it as a 
flame of fresh terror in which to scorch her will, until 
it should become pliant as heated metal. 

He saw the scarlet flush rise slowly up to stain her 
neck and face, whilst her eyes remained fixed upon 
his own. 

"My lord!" she panted. "I know not what you 
mean. You . . ." And then her spirit rallied. He saw 
her body stiff"en, and her glance harden and grow de- 
fiant. But when she spoke her voice betrayed her by 
its quaver. 

"Prince Sinibaldi is the accredited envoy of the 
Most Serene. His person is sacred. A hurt to him 
were as a hurt to the Republic whose representative 


he is, and the Republic is not slow to avenge her 
hurts. You dare not touch him." 

He continued to regard her, smiling. "That I have 
done already. Have 1 not said that he is a prisoner 
now — below here — bound and awaiting my pleas- 
ure?" And he repeated his phrase. "But my pleas- 
ure. Madonna, shall be your pleasure." 

Yet all the answer she could return him was a 
reiteration of her cry: 

"You dare not! You dare not!" 

The smile perished slowly from his face. He in- 
clined his head to her, though not without a tinge of 

" I will leave you happy, then, in that conviction," 
he said on a note at once so sardonic and sinister that 
it broke her newfound spirit into shards. 

As if he accepted the fruitlessness of the interview, 
and accounted it concluded, he turned and stepped to 
the door. At this her terror, held in check a moment, 
swept over her again like a flood. She staggered to 
her feet, one hand on the table to support her, the 
other at her breast. 

"My lord! My lord! A moment! Pity!" 

He paused, and half-turned, his fingers already 
upon the latch. 

"I will have pity. Madonna, if you will teach me 
pity — if you will show me pity." He came back to 
her slowly, very grave now. "This husband of yours 
has been taken in treason. If you would not have him 
strangled this night, if you would ever hold him warm 
and living in your arms again, it is yours to rescue 
him from what impends." 

He was looking deep and earnestly into her eyes. 


and she bore the glance, returned it wildly, in silence 
for a dozen heart-beats. Then at last, her lids 
dropped. She bowed her head. Her pallor seemed to 
deepen until her flesh was as if turned to wax. 

"What ... what do you require of me?" she 
breathed in a small, fluttering voice. 

There was never a man more versed than he in the 
uses of ambiguity. 

He had employed it now so as to produce in her the 
maximum of terror — so as to convey to her a sug- 
gestion that he asked the maximum price. Thus when 
he made clear his real meaning, there would be re- 
action from her worst dread, and in that reaction he 
would trap her. The great sacrifice he demanded, 
would be dwarfed in her view by relief, would seem 
small by comparison with the sacrifice his ambiguity 
had led her to fancy he required. 

So when she asked that faint piteous question, 
"What do you require of me?" he answered swift and 
sharply with words that he had rendered unexpected: 

"All that is known to you of this conspiracy in 
which he was taken." 

He caught the upward flash of her eyes; their look 
of amazement, almost of relief, and knew that he had 
made her malleable. She swayed where she stood. 
He steadied her with ready hands, and gently pressed 
her back into her chair. 

And now he proceeded to hammer the metal he had 

"Come, Madonna, use dispatch, I beg," he urged 
her, his voice level but singularly compelling. "Do 
not strain a patience that has its roots in mercy. Con- 
sider that the information I require of you, and for 


which I offer you so generous a price, the torture can 
extract for me from this husband of yours. I will be 
frank with you as at an Easter shrift. It is true I do 
not wish to embroil myself with the Most Serene Re- 
public, and that I seek to gain my ends by gentle 
measures. But, by the Host! if my gentle measures 
do not prevail with you, why, then. Prince Sinibaldi 
shall be squeezed dry upon the rack, and what is 
left of him flung to the stranglers afterwards — aye, 
though he were an envoy of the Empire itself. My 
name," he ended, almost grimly, "is Cesare Borgia. 
You know what repute I enjoy in Venice." 

She stared at him, considering, confused, and voiced 
the very question that perplexed her. 

"You offer me his life — his hfe and freedom — in 
exchange for this information?" 

"That is what I offer." 

She pressed her hands to her brows, seeking to 
fathom the mystery of an offer that appeared to hold 
such extraordinary elements of contradiction. 

"But then . . ." she began, tremulously, and 
paused for lack of words in which to frame her 

"If you need more assurance. Madonna, you shall 
have it," he said. "You shall have the assurance of 
my oath. I swear to you by my honour and my hope 
of Heaven that neither in myself nor through another 
shall I procure the hurt of so much as a hair of Sini- 
baldi's head, provided that I know all of the treason 
that was plotting to be done this night and that thus 
I may be able to avoid the trap that I believe is set for 

That resolved her doubts. She saw the reason of 


the thing; understood that, after all, he but offered 
Sinibaldi's life in exchange for his own safety. Yet 
even then she hesitated, thinking of her husband. 

"He may blame me . . ." she began, faltering. 

Cesare's eyes gleamed. He leaned over her. "He 
need never know," he urged her insidiously. 

"You . . . you pledge your word," she insisted, as if 
to convince herself that all would be well. 

"Already have I pledged it. Madonna," he an- 
swered, and he could not altogether repress a note of 
bitterness. For he had pledged it reluctantly, because 
he conceived that no less would satisfy her. It was a 
bargain he would have avoided, had there been a way. 
For he did not lightly forgive, and he did not relish 
the notion of Sinibaldi's going unpunished. But he 
had perceived that unless he gave this undertaking 
he would be without the means to parry the blow that 
might be struck at any moment. 

"I have pledged it. Madonna," he repeated, "and 
I do not forswear myself." 

"You mean that you will not even allow him to 
know that you know? That you will but use the 
information I may give you to procure your own 

"That is what I mean," he assured her, and waited, 
confident now that he was about to have the thing he 
desired and for which he had bidden something reck- 

And at last he got the story — the sum total of her 
knowledge. Last night Ranieri and Prince Sinibaldi 
had sat late alone together. Her suspicions had earlier 
been aroused that her husband was plotting something 
with this friend of the fallen Malatesta. Driven by 


these suspicions, jealous perhaps, to find herself ex- 
cluded from her husband's confidence in this matter, 
she had played the eavesdropper, and she had over- 
heard that it was against Cesare Borgia's life that 
they conspired. 

"The Lord Ranieri," she said, "spoke of this ban- 
quet at the Palazzo Pubblico, urging that the op- 
portunity it afforded would be a rare one. It was 
Ranieri, my lord, who was the villain, the tempter in 
this affair.'* 

"Yes, yes, no doubt," said Cesare impatiently. 
"It matters not which was the tempter, which the 
tempted. The story of it!" 

" Ranieri knew that you would be returning to sleep 
at Sigismondo's Castle, and that it was planned to 
escort you thither in procession by torchlight. At 
some point on your way — but where I cannot tell 
you, for this much I did not learn — at some point on 
your way, then, Ranieri spoke of two crossbow-men 
that were to be ambushed, to shoot you." 

She paused a moment. But Cesare offered no 
comment, betrayed no faintest perturbation at the 
announcement. So she proceeded. 

" But there was a difficulty. Ranieri did not account 
it insuperable, but to make doubly sure he desired it 
should be removed. He feared that if mounted guards 
chanced to ride beside you, it might not be easy for the 
crossbow-men to shoot past them. Foot-guards would 
not signify, as the men could shoot over their heads. 
But it was necessary, he held, to make quite sure that 
none but foot-guards should be immediately about 
your person, so that riding clear above them you 
should offer a fair mark. To make sure of this it was 


that he proposed to seduce one of your captains — I 
think it would be this man Graziani, whom the soldier 
told you had been wounded. Ranieri was satisfied 
that Graziani was disaffected towards your highness, 
and that he might easily be bought to lend a hand in 
their enterprise." 

Valentinois smiled slowly, thoughtfully. He knew 
quite well the source of Ranieri's rash assumption. 
Then, as he considered further, that smile of his grew 
faintly cruel, reflecting his mind. 

"That is all I overheard, my lord," she added after 
an instant's pause. 

He stirred at that: threw back his head and laughed 

"Enough, as God lives," he snorted. 

She looked at him, and the sight of his countenance 
and the blaze of his tawny eyes filled her with fresh 
terror. She started to her feet, and appealed to him 
to remember his oath. At that appeal he put aside all 
trace of wrath, and smiled again. 

"Let your fears have rest," he bade her. "I have 
sworn, and by what I have sworn I shall abide. Nor 
I nor man of mine shall do hurt to Prince Sinibaldi." 

She wanted to pour out her gratitude and her deep 
sense of his magnanimity. But words failed her for a 
moment, and ere she had found them, he was urging 
her to depart. 

" Madonna, you were best away, I think. You are 
overwrought. I fear that I have tried you sorely." 

She confessed to her condition, and professed that 
she would be glad of his leave to return home at once. 

"The Prince shall follow you," he promised her, as 
he conducted her to the door. "First, however, we 


shall endeavour to make our peace with him, and I do 
not doubt but that we shall succeed. Be content," he 
added, observing the fresh panic that stared at him 
from her blue eyes — for she suddenly bethought her 
of what manner of peace it was Cesare's wont to make 
with his enemies. "He shall be treated by me with all 
honour. I shall endeavour by friendliness to win him 
from these traitors who have seduced him." 

"It is so — it is so!" she exclaimed, seizing with 
avidity upon that excuse which he so generously im- 
plied for the man who would have contrived his mur- 
der. "It was none of his devising. He was lured to 
it by the evil counsels of others." 

"How can I doubt it, since you assure me of it?" 
he replied with an irony so subtle that it escaped her. 
He bowed, and opened the door. 


FOLLOWING her out into the great hall, where 
instantly silence fell and a hundred eyes became 
levelled upon them, he beckoned the President of the 
Council, who hovered near, awaiting him. Into the 
President's care he surrendered the Princess, desiring 
him to conduct her thence and to her litter. 

Again he bowed to her, profoundly in farewell, and 
as she passed out of the hall, her hand upon the arm of 
the President, he stepped up to his place at the board 
again, and with a light jest and a laugh, invited the 
return of mirth, as if no thought or care troubled his 

He saw that Capello watched him with saucer eyes, 
and he could imagine the misgivings that filled the 
Venetian Orator's heart as a result of that long inter- 
view which had ended in the withdrawal of Sinibaldi's 
lady from the feast. Messer Capello should be abun- 
dantly entertained, he thought with grim humour, 
and when the President had returned from escorting 
the Princess to her litter, Cesare raised a finger and 
signed to the steel-clad ancient who stood waiting as 
he had been bidden. 

Barbo clanked forward, and the talk and laughter 
rippled down to an expectant hush. 

" Bring in the Prince Sinibaldi," Cesare commanded, 
and therewith he fetched consternation back into that 

The p>ortly, slimy Capello was so wrought upon by 
his perturbation at this command that he heaved him- 


self to his feet, and made so bold as to go round to 
Cesare's chair. 

" Magnificent," he muttered fearfully, "what is this 
of Prince Sinibaldi?" 

The Duke flung at him a glance contemptuously 
over his shoulder. 

"Wait, and you shall see," he said. 

" But, my lord, I implore you to consider that the 
Most Serene . . ." 

"A little patience, sir," snapped Cesare, and the 
glance of his eyes drove back the flabby ambassador 
like a blow. He hung there behind the Duke's chair, 
very white, and breathing labouredly. His fleshiness 
troubled him at such times as these. 

The double doors were flung open, and Barbo re- 
entered. He was followed by four men-at-arms of 
Graziani's condotta, and in their midst walked Prince 
Sinibaldi, the envoy extraordinary of the Most Serene 
Republic. But his air and condition were rather those 
of a common malefactor. His wrists were still pin- 
ioned behind his back; he was without hat or cloak; 
his clothes were in some disarray, as a result of his 
struggles, and his mien was sullen. 

The company's amazement deepened, and a mur- 
mur ran round the board. 

At a sign from the Duke the guards fell back a little 
from their prisoner, leaving him face to face with 

"Untie his wrists," the Duke commanded, and 
Barbo instantly slashed through the Prince's bonds. 

Conscious of the eyes upon him, the Venetian ral- 
lied his drooping spirits. He flung back his head, drew 
himself up, a tall figure full now of dignity and scorn. 


his eyes set boldly upon Ccsare's impassive face. 
Suddenly, unbidden, he broke into a torrent of angry 

"Is it by your commands, my Lord Duke, that 
these indignities are put upon the inviolable person of 
an envoy?" he demanded. "The Most Serene, whose 
mouthpiece I have the honour to be, whose represent- 
ative I am, is not likely to suffer with patience such 

Within the Duke's reach stood an orange that had 
been injected with rose attar to be used as a perfume 
ball. He took it up in his long fingers and delicately 
sniffed it. 

" I trust," said he in that quiet voice which he could 
render so penetrating and so sweetly sinister, " that I 
apprehend you amiss when I apprehend that you 
threaten. It is not wise to threaten us. Excellency — 
not even for an envoy of the Most Serene." And he 
smiled upon the Venetian, but with such a smile that 
Sinibaldi quailed and lost on the instant much of his 
fine arrogance — as many another bold fellow had 
done when face to face with the young Duke of 

Capello in the background wrung his hands and 
with difficulty suppressed a groan. 

"I do not threaten, my lord . . ." began Sinibaldi. 

**I am relieved to hear it," said the Duke. 

"I protest," Sinibaldi concluded. "I protest 
against the treatment I have received. These ruf- 
fianly soldiers . . ." 

"Ah," said the Duke, and again he sniffed his 
orange. " Your protest shall have all attention. Never 
suppose me capable of overlooking anything that is 


your due. Continue, then, I beg. Let us hear, my 
lord, your version of the night's affair. Condescend to 
explain the error of which you have been the victim, 
and I promise you the blunderers shall be punished. 
I will punish them the more gladly since it is in my 
nature not to like blunderers. You were saying that 
these ruffianly soldiers . . . But continue, pray." 

Sinibaldi did not continue. Instead he began at 
the beginning of the tale he had prepared during 
the ample leisure that had been accorded him for the 
task. And it was a crafty tale, most cunningly con- 
ceived, and based as all convincing tales should be 
upon actualities. It was, in fact, precisely such a tale 
as Graziani might have told had he been there to 
speak, and being therefore true — though not true 
of Sinibaldi — would bear testing and should carry 

" I was bidden. Magnificent, in secret to-night to a 
meeting held at the house of my Lord Ranieri, whose 
guest it happens that I have been since my coming to 
Rimini. I went urged by the promise that a matter of 
life and death was to be dealt with, which concerned 
me closely. 

"I found a small company assembled there, but be- 
fore they would reveal to me the real purpose of that 
gathering, they desired me to make an irrevocable 
oath that whether or not I became a party to the 
matters that were to be disclosed to me, I would never 
divulge a single word of it nor the name of any of those 
whom I met there. 

"Now I am not a fool. Magnificent." 

"Who implies it?" wondered Cesare aloud. 

" I am not a fool, and I scented treason instantly, as 


they knew I must. It is to be assumed that by some 
misconception they had come to think that I had ends 
to serve by listening to treason, by becoming a party 
to it. Therein lay their mistake — a mistake that was 
near to costing me my life, and has occasioned me this 
indignity of which I complain. I will not trouble your 
magnificence with my personal feelings. They matter 
nothing. I am an envoy, and just as I know and 
expect what is due to me, so do I know and fulfil what 
is due from me. These fools should have considered 
that more fully. Since they did not . . ." 

"God give us patience!" broke in the Duke. "Will 
you go over that again? This is mere oratory, sir. 
Your tale, sir — your tale. Let the facts plead for you." 

Sinibaldi inclined his head with dignity. 

" Indeed, your highness is right — as ever. To my 
tale then. Where was I ? Ah, yes ! 

"When an oath of that nature was demanded of me 
I would at once have drawn back. But I perceived 
that already I had gone too far in thoughtlessly join- 
ing that assembly and that they would never suffer me 
to depart again and spread the alarm of what was 
doing there. They dared not for their lives' sake. So 
much was clear. Therefore, for my own life's sake, 
and in self-defence, I took the oath imposed. But 
having taken it, I announced plainly that I desired to 
hear no more of any plot. I warned them that they 
were rash in having set their hands to any secret 
business, and that if — as I conceived — it had for 
aim your highness's hurt, then they were more than 
rash, since your magnificence has as many eyes as 
Argus. Upon that I begged them to suffer me to de- 
part since I was sworn to silence. 


"* But men of their sort are easily fearful of betrayal, 
and do not lay much store by oaths. They refused to 
consent to my departure, protesting that I was bent 
upon denouncing them. From words we passed soon 
enough to blows. They set upon me, and a fight 
ensued in which one of them fell to my sword. Then 
the noise of our brawling brought in a patrol — but 
for which it is odds I should have left my life there. 
When these soldiers broke in, the plotters flung them- 
selves from a window into the river, whilst I re- 
mained, having naught to fear, since I was innocent 
of all evil. It was thus that I alone came to be taken 
by these fellows who would listen to no assurances I 
offered them." 

From behind the Duke's chair came a deep sigh of 
relief uttered by the quaking Capello. He advanced a 

"You see, my lord, you see . . .** he was beginning. 

"Peace, man!" the Duke bade him sharply. "Be 
assured I see as far as any man, and need not borrow 
your eyes to help me, Ser Capello." Then, turning 
again to Sinibaldi, and speaking very courteously: 
"My lord," he said, "it grieves me you should have 
been mishandled by my soldiery. But I trust to your 
generosity to see that until we had this explanation, 
the appearances were against you; and you will acquit 
us, I am sure, of any discourtesy to the Most Serene. 
Let me add even that in the case of any one less ac- 
credited than yourself, or representing a power upon 
whose friendship I did not so implicitly depend as I do 
upon that of Venice " (he said it with all the appear- 
ance of sincerity and with no slightest trace of irony), 
" I might be less ready to accept that explanation, and 


I might press for the names of the men who, you are 
satisfied, were engaged in treason." 

"Those names, Magnificent, already I should have 
afforded you but for the oath that binds me," an- 
swered Sinibaldi. 

"That, too, I understand; and so, my lord, out of 
deference and to mark my esteem of you and of the 
Republic you represent, I do not ask a question you 
might have a difficulty in answering. Let us forget 
this unhappy incident." 

But at that the ancient, who loved Graziani as 
faithful hound its master, was unable longer to con- 
tain himself. Was the Duke mad, to accept so pre- 
posterous a tale — to swallow this lying fabrication as 
smoothly and easily as if it were a sugared egg? 

" My lord," he broke in, " if what he says is true . . ." 

"If?" cried Cesare. "Who dares to doubt it? Is he 
not Prince Sinibaldi and the envoy of the Most Serene ? 
Who will cast a doubt upon his word?" 

"I will, my lord," answered the soldier stoutly. 
' "By the Host! Now here's audacity." 

"My lord, if what he says is true, then it follows 
that Messer Graziani was a traitor — for it was Messer 
Graziani who was wounded in that brawl, and he 
would have us believe that the man he wounded was 
one of those that plotted with his innocence." 

"That, quite clearly, is what he has said." 

"Why, then," said Barbo — and he plucked the 
rude buffalo gauntlet from his left hand — "I say that 
who says that is a liar, whether he be a Prince of 
Venice or a Prince of Hell." And he raised the glove 
he had plucked from his hand, clearly intending to 
fling it in Sinibaldi's face. 


But the Duke's voice checked the intention, 

"Hold!" it bade him sharply; and instantly he 
paused. The Duke looked at him with narrowing eyes. 
"You all but did a thing that might have cost you 
very dear," he said. "Get out of my sight, and take 
your men with you. But hold yourself at my com- 
mands outside. We will talk of this again, perhaps 
to-night, perhaps to-morrow, Messer Bar bo. Go!" 

Chilled by tone and glance. Bar bo stiffened, saluted, 
then with a malignant scowl at Sinibaldi, clanked 
down the hall and out, counting himself as good as 
hanged, yet more concerned with the foul slander 
uttered against his captain than with any fate that 
might lie in store for himself. 

Cesare looked at Sinibaldi, and smiled. "Forgive 
the lout," he said. "Honesty, and fidelity to his cap- 
tain prompted him. To-morrow he shall be taught 
his manners. Meanwhile, of your graciousness forget 
it with the rest. A place for the Prince Sinibaldi here 
at my side. Come, my lord, let me play host to you, 
and make you some amends for the rude handling 
you have suffered. Never blame the master for the 
stupidity of his lackeys. The Council whose guest I 
am have spread a noble entertainment. Here is a wine 
that is a very unguent for wounded souls — a whole 
Tuscan summer has been imprisoned in every flagon 
of it. And there is to be a comedy — delayed too long 
by these untoward happenings. Sir President, what 
of these players sent from Mantua? The Prince 
Sinibaldi is to be amused, that he may forget how he 
has been vexed." 

You see Prince Sinibaldi, then, limp with amaze- 
ment, shaken by relief from his long tension, scarcely 


believing himself out of his terrible position, wonder- 
ing whether perhaps all this were not a dream. He 
sank into the chair that was placed for him at the 
Duke's side, he drank of the wine that at the Duke's 
bidding was poured for him by one of the scarlet 
lackeys. And then, even as he drank, he almost 
choked upon the sudden fresh fear that assailed him 
with the memory of certain stories of Capello's con- 
cerning Cesare's craft in the uses of poisons. 

But even as in haste he set down his cup and half- 
turned, he beheld the lackey pouring wine from the 
same beaker for the venom-taster who stood behind 
the Duke's chair, and so he was reassured. 

The players followed, and soon the company's at- 
tention was engrossed entirely by the plot of the more 
or less lewd comedy they performed. But Sinibaldi's 
thoughts were anywhere but with the play. He was 
considering all that had happened, and most of all his 
present condition and the honour done him by the 
Duke as a measure of amends for the indignities he 
had endured. He was a man of sanguine tempera- 
ment, and gradually his mistrust was dissipated by 
the increasing conviction that the Duke behaved thus 
towards him out of dread of the powerful Republic 
whose representative he was. Hence was he gradually 
heartened to the extent of conceiving a certain meas- 
ure of contempt for this Valentinois of such terrible 
repute, and a certain assurance even that Ranieri and 
the others would yet carry out the business that had 
been concerted. 

And meanwhile Cesare, beside him, sitting hunched 
in his chair, his chin in his hand, his eyes intent upon 
the players, was conscious of as little of the comedy as 


was Sinibaldi. Had the company been less engrossed, 
its members might have observed how set remained 
the Duke's countenance, and how vacant. Like Sini- 
baldi he, too, was concerned, to the exclusion of all, 
else, with the thing that was to be done that night. 
He was wondering, too, how far the Most Serene itself 
might have a hand in this murderous affair, how far 
Sinibaldi might be an agent sent to do this assassin's 
work. He bethought him of how at every step in his 
career, and in every way within her power, Venice had 
betrayed her implacable hostility; he remembered 
how she had gone to work with the insidious weapons 
of intrigue and slander to embroil him now with 
France, now with Spain, and how by arms and money 
she had secretly reinforced his enemies against him. 

Was Sinibaldi, then, but the hand of the Republic 
in this matter.'' Plainly it must be so, since Sinibaldi 
personally could have no cause to seek his life. Sini- 
baldi, then, had all the resources of the Republic be- 
hind him. He was a tool that must be broken, both 
because he had lent himself to this infamous treach- 
ery, and because in breaking him would lie Cesare's 
best answer to the Venetian trader-princes. 

Yet, although he saw plainly what was to do, the 
means of doing it were none so plain. He must pick 
his way carefully through this tangle, lest it should 
enmesh him and bring him down. Firstly, he had 
pledged his princely word that he would do no hurt to 
Sinibaldi. If possible he would observe the letter of 
that promise; as for the spirit of it, it were surely un- 
reasonable to expect him to respect that also. Sec- 
ondly, to destroy Sinibaldi without destroying with 
him his confederates were to leave the treachery, not 


only alive, but quickened into activity by the spur of 
revenge; in such a case his own danger would persist, 
and if the arbalest bolt were not loosed at him to- 
night it might come to-morrow or the next day. 
Thirdly, in dealing with this pack of Venetian mur- 
derers he must so go to work as to leave Venice no 
case for grievance at the result. 

So far as Sinibaldi himself was concerned, it must 
be remembered that the tale he had told so publicly 
and circumstantially was impossible of refutation 
save by Graziani — and Graziani was insensible and 
might not live to refute it, whilst even if he did, it 
would be but the word of Graziani — a captain of 
fortune, one of a class never deemed over-scrupulous 
— against the word of Sinibaldi — a patrician and a 
Prince of Venice. 

There you have the nice problem by which Cesare 
found himself confronted and which he considered 
whilst with unseeing eyes he watched the antics of the 
players; and you will agree that the solution of it was 
matter enough to justify his absorption and to call for 
all the ingegno which Macchiavelli, a connoisseur in 
the matter, so profoundly admired in the Duke. 

Light came to him towards the comedy's conclu- 
sion. The grim mask of concentration that he had 
worn was suddenly relaxed, and for a moment his eyes 
sparkled with almost wicked humour. He flung him- 
self back in his chair, and listened now to the epilogue 
spoken by the leader of the company. At its close he 
led the applause by detaching from his girdle a heavy 
purse, and flinging it down to the players to mark his 
own appreciation of their eflforts. Then he turned 
to Sinibaldi, to discuss with him a comedy of which 


neither had much knowledge. He laughed and jested 
with the Venetian as with an equal, overwhelming 
him by the courtly charm in which no man of his day 
could surpass the Duke. 

CAME midnight at last — the hour at which it 
had been arranged that the torchlight proces- 
sion should set out from the Palazzo Pubblico to es- 
cort the Duke back to the famous Rocca of Sigis- 
mondo Malatesta, where he was housed. Valentinois 
gave the signal for departure by rising, and instantly a 
regiment of grooms and pages hung about him in at- 

Sinibaldi, facing him, bowed low to take his leave, 
to go seek his lady whose withdrawal from the ban- 
quet had been occasioned, as he had been informed, 
by his own adventure. But Cesare would not hear of 
parting from him yet awhile. He thanked Heaven in 
his most gracious manner for the new friend it had 
that night vouchsafed him. 

" But for this mischance of yours. Excellency, we 
might never have come to such desirable knowledge 
of each other. Forgive me, therefore, if I cannot 
altogether deplore it." 

Overwhelmed by so much honour, Sinibaldi could 
but bow again, in such humility that you might al- 
most hear him murmuring, " Domine, non sum dig- 
nus!" almost fancy him beating his secretly armoured 
breast in self-abasement. And, meanwhile, the oily 
Capello hovering ever nigh, like some tutelary deity, 
purred and smirked and rubbed his gross white hands 
that anon should pen more obscenities in defamation 
of this gracious Valentinois. 

"Come, then. Excellency," the Duke continued. 


"You shall ride with me to the citadel, and there 
pledge our next meeting, which may the gods please 
shall be soon. And Messer Capello here shall be of the 
party. I take no denial. I shall account your refusal 
as the expression of a lingering resentment at what 
has befallen you through no fault of my own, and to 
my deep mortification. Come, Prince. They are wait- 
ing for us. Messer Capello, follow us." 

On the word he thrust an arm, lithe and supple as a 
thing of steel, through that of Sinibaldi, and in this 
fashion the twain stepped down the hall together, and 
along the gallery between the files of courtiers gath- 
ered there to acclaim the Duke. It almost seemed as 
if Cesare desired that Sinibaldi should share this hon- 
our with him, and Capello following immediately 
upon their heels puffed himself out with pride and 
satisfaction to see Valentinois doing homage to the 
Most Serene Republic in so marked a manner through 
the person of her envoy extraordinary. 

Thus they came out upon the courtyard into the 
ruddy glare of a hundred flaming torches that turned 
to orange the yellowing old walls of the Palazzo. 
Here was great press and bustle of grooms about the 
cavaliers who were getting to horse and still more 
about the ladies who were climbing to their litters. 

It was here that Cesare and Sinibaldi were met by a 
pair of the Duke's vermilion pages bearing his cloak 
and cap. 

Now it happened that the cloak, which was fash- 
ioned from the skin of a tiger, heavily laced with gold 
and reversed with yellow satin, was as conspicuous as 
it was rare and costly. It was a present that the Sul- 
tan Bajazet had sent the Borgia out of Turkey, and 


Cesare had affected it since the cold weather had set 
in, not only out of his inherent love of splendour, but 
also for the sake of the great warmth which it af- 

As the stripling stood before him now presenting 
that very gorgeous mantle, the Duke swung suddenly 
u|x>n Sinibaldi, standing at his elbow. 

"You have no cloak, my lord!" he cried in deep 
concern. "No cloak, and it is a bitter night." 

**A groom shall find me one. Magnificent," the 
Venetian answered, and half-turned aside to desire 
Capello give the order for him. 

"Ah, wait," said Cesare. He took the lovely tiger 
skin from the hands of his page. "Since not only in 
these my new dominions, but actually out of loyalty 
to myself it was that you lost your cloak, suffer me to 
replace it with this, and at the same time to offer you 
an all unworthy token of the esteem in which I hold 
your excellency and the Serene Republic which you 

Sinibaldi fell back a single step, and one of the 
pages told afterwards that on his face was stamped 
the look of one in sudden fear. He looked deep into 
the Duke's smiling eyes and perhaps he saw there 
some faint trace of the mockery which he had fancied 
that he detected in his smooth words. 

Now, Sinibaldi, as you will have seen by the promp- 
titude and thoroughness with which he adapted to 
himself the story of Graziani's misadventure, was a 
crafty, subtle-witted gentleman, quick to draw infer- 
ences where once a clue was afforded him. 

As he met now that so faintly significant smile of 
Cesare's, as he pondered the faintly significant tone in 


which the Duke had spoken, and as he considered the 
noble gift that was being proffered him, understand- 
ing came to him swift, sudden, and startling as a flash 
of lightning in the night. 

The Duke had never been deceived by his specious 
story; the Duke knew the truth; the Duke's almost 
fawning friendliness — which, he like a fool, had for a 
while fancied to be due to the Duke's fear of Venice — 
had been so much make-believe, so much mockery, 
the play of cat with mouse, the prelude to destruc- 

All this he understood now, and saw that he was 
trapped — and trapped, moreover, with a cunning 
and a subtlety that made it impossible for him so 
much as to utter a single word to defend his life. For 
what could he say? How, short of an open avowal 
which would be equally destructive to himself, short 
of declaring that the wearing of that cloak would place 
him in mortal peril, could he decline the proffered 

It came to him in his despair to refuse the gift per- 
emptorily. But then gifts from princes such as the 
Duke of Valentinois and Romagna are not refused by 
ambassadors extraordinary without putting an af- 
front upon the donor, and that, not only in their own 
personal quality, but also, in a sense, on behalf of the 
State they represent. 

Whichever way he turned there was no outlet. And 
the Duke smiling ever stood before him, holding out 
the cloak which to Sinibaldi was as the very mantle of 

And as if this had not been enough, the ineffable 
Capello must shuffle forward, smirking and rubbing 


his hands in satisfaction at this supremely gratify- 
ing subjection of the Duke to a proper respect for the 
Most Serene Republic. 

"A noble gift, Highness!" he purred, "a noble gift; 
worthy of your potency's munificence." Then, with a 
shaft of malice, he added, that the Duke might know 
how fully his ulterior motives were perceived and no 
doubt despised: "And the honour to Prince Sinibaldi 
will be held by the Most Serene as an honour to her- 

"It is my desire to honour both in the exact meas- 
ure of their due," laughed Cesare; and Sinibaldi alone, 
his senses rendered superacute by fear, caught the 
faintly sinister note in that laugh, read the sinister 
meaning of those amiable words. 

He trembled in the heart of him, cursing Capello for 
a fool. Then, since he must submit, he took heart of 
grace. He found courage in hope. He bethought him 
that, after all that had happened that night, it would 
be more than likely that the conspirators would hold 
their hands at present, that they would postpone to a 
more opportune season the thing that was to be done. 
If so, then all would be well, and Cesare should be 
confounded yet. 

Upon that hope he fastened tenaciously, desper- 
ately. He assured himself that he had gone too fast in 
his conclusions. After all, Cesare could have no posi- 
tive knowledge; with positive knowledge the Duke 
would unhesitatingly have proceeded to more definite 
measures. It was impossible that he should harbour 
more than suspicions, and all his present intent would 
be to put those suspicions to the test. If, as Sinibaldi 
now hoped, Ranieri and his friends held their hands 


that night, Cesare must conclude that those suspi- 
cions had been unfounded. 

With such reasonings did the Prince Sinibaldi 
hearten himself, knowing little of Borgia ways and 
nothing of Cesare's sworn promise to the Princess. 
He recovered quickly his assurance. Indeed, his vacil- 
lation had been but momentary. Meeting dissimula- 
tion with dissimulation, he murmured some graceful 
words of deep gratification, submitted to have the 
cloak thrust upon him, and even the velvet cap with 
its bordure of miniver that was also Cesare's own, and 
which was pressed upon him on the same pretext that 
had served for the cloak. 

Thereafter he allowed himself to drift with the tide 
of things, like a swimmer who, realizing that the cur- 
rent is too strong for him, ceases to torture himself by 
the effort of stemming it, and abandons himself, hop- 
ing that in its course that current will bring him safe 
to shore. In this spirit he mounted the splendid Bar- 
bary charger with its sweeping velvet trappings which 
also was Cesare's own, and which became now a fur- 
ther token of his princely munificence. 

Yet that fool Capello, looking on, perceived noth- 
ing but what was put before his eyes. He licked his 
faintly sneering lips over this further proof of Cesare's 
servility to the Republic, and began in his mind to 
shape the phrases in which he would rejoice the hearts 
of the Ten with a description of it all. 

The Prince was mounted, and by his stirrup stood 
the Duke like any equerry. He looked up at the Ve- 

"That is a lively horse, my lord," he said at part- 
ing, " a fiery and impulsive child of the desert. But I 


will bid my footmen hang close up>on your flanks, so 
that they will be at hand in case it should grow res- 
tive." And again Sinibaldi understood the true mean- 
ing of those solicitous words, and conceived that he 
was meant to realize how futile it would be in him to 
attempt to escape the test to which he was to be sub- 

He bowed his acknowledgment of the warning and 
the provision, and the Duke stepped back, took a 
plain black cloak and a black hat from a page who had 
fetched them in answer to his bidding, and mounted 
a very simply equipped horse which a groom surren- 
dered to him. 

Thus that splendid company rode out into the 
streets of the town, which were still thronged, for the 
people of Rimini had waited for the spectacle of this 
torchlight procession that was to escort the Duke's 
potency back to the Rocca of Sigismondo. To gratify 
the people, the cavalcade went forward at a walking 
pace, flanked on either side by a file of footmen bear- 
ing torches. 

Acclamations greeted them, ringing and sincere, 
for the conquest of Rimini by Cesare Borgia held for 
the people the promise of liberation from the cruel 
yoke under which the tyrant Pandolfaccio Malatesta 
had oppressed them. They knew the wisdom and 
liberality of his rule elsewhere, and they hailed him 
now as their deliverer. 

"Duca! Ducal Valentino!" rang the cry, and 
Sinibaldi was perhaps the only one in the cavalcade 
who remarked that the cry arose in a measure as he 
himself came into view, that it was at himself — 
travestied in Cesare's barbaric splendour — that the 


people looked as they shouted and waved their caps. 
And so it was, for there were few, indeed, in those 
lines of sight-seers who perceived that the tall man in 
the tiger-skin mantle and scarlet and miniver bonnet 
riding that sumptuously caparisoned horse — the most 
splendid figure in all that splendid cavalcade — was 
not the Duke of Valentinois whom they acclaimed; 
fewer still were there to pay much heed to the man in 
the black cloak and heavy hat who came next, a few 
paces behind, riding beside the Orator of Venice, who 
bestrode a white mule. 

Thus the procession made its way across the wide 
square of the Palazzo Pubblico, and down a narrow 
street into the main way that runs east and west al- 
most straight across the city from the Bridge of Au- 
gustus to the Porta Romana. 

At the corner of the Via della Rocca, such was the 
clamour of the sight-seers that none heard the twice 
repeated twang of an arbalest-cord. Indeed, the first 
intimation the Duke received that the thing he ex- 
pected had come to pass was when the cavalier in the 
tiger-skin cloak was suddenly seen to crumple forward 
upon the neck of his charger. 

Instantly the grooms sprang to seize the bridle and 
support the limp figure of its rider. Those following 
Cesare — Capello foremost amongst them — reined 
in upon the instant; and a sudden awe-stricken silence 
fell upon the assembled crowd, when, notwithstand- 
ing the efibrts of the grooms, the man whom they im- 
agined to be Cesare Borgia rolled sideways from the 
saddle into the arms of those below, an arbalest-bolt 
through his brain. 

That moment of silent panic was succeeded by an 


awful cry, a wail which in itself expressed the public 
fear of the awful vengeance that might follow upon 
the city: 

"The Duke is dead!" 

And then in answer to that cry, by some unac- 
countable magic — as it seemed to the people — 
there in his stirrups stood the Duke himself, his head 
bare, his tawny hair glowing ruddily in the torch- 
light, his brazen voice dominating the din and con- 

"It is murder!" he proclaimed, and added fiercely 
the question, "Who has done this foul deed?" Then 
he flung an arm towards the corner house on his right. 
"In there!" he shouted to his halberdiers who came 
thrusting towards him through the crowd. " In, I say, 
and on your lives see that not a man escapes you. It 
is the envoy of Venice whom they have murdered, and 
they shall pay for it with their necks, whoever they 
may be." 

In a moment the house was surrounded by Cesare's 
men-at-arms. The door crashed inwards under the 
fierce blows of halberds, and the soldiers went in to 
take the assassins, whilst Cesare pushed on towards 
the open square before the citadel, all pouring after 
him, courtiers, grooms, and people, in a vociferous 

Before the citadel Cesare drew rein, and his hal- 
berdiers cleared a space, and with their long pikes 
held horizontally formed a barrier against the surging 
human tide. Other men-at-arms coming presently 
down the street clove through the press, flinging the 
mob in waves on either side of them. In their midst 
these pikemen brought five prisoners taken in that 


house from which death had been launched upon 
Prince Sinibaldi. 

The captives were dragged forward, amid the furi- 
ous execrations of the people, into that open space 
which the halberdiers had cleared, and so brought be- 
fore the Duke, who stood there waiting to deal out 
summary justice. Beside him on his mule, bewildered, 
pale, and flabby, was Messer Capello, retained by 
Cesare, since as the only remaining representative of 
Venice it concerned him to witness this matter to its 

He was a dull fellow, this Orator, and it is to be 
doubted whether he had any explanation of the truth 
until he had looked into the faces of those five 
wretches whom the men-at-arms now thrust forward 
into the Duke's awful presence. It was now, at last, I 
think, that he understood that Sinibaldi had been 
mistaken for the Duke and had received in his treach- 
erous brain the bolt intended for Valentinois. Swift 
upon that realization followed an obvious suspicion. 
Had the Duke so intended it.'' Had Cesare Borgia de- 
liberately planned that there should be this mistake? 
Was it to this end that he had arrayed Sinibaldi in the 
tiger-skin cloak and ducal cap and set him to ride 
upon his own charger ? 

Conviction settled upon Messer Capello; convic- 
tion and rage at the manner in which the Duke had 
fooled them and turned the tables upon Sinibaldi. 
But there was yet the Most Serene to be reckoned 
with, and the Most Serene would know how to avenge 
the death of her envoy; heavy, indeed, should be the 
reckoning the Republic would present. 

In his rage Messer Capello swung round, threats 


already on his lips, his arm flung out to give them em- 
phasis. But ere he could speak Cesare had caught by 
the wrist that outflung arm of his and held it as in a 

"Look," he bade the envoy. "Look, Messer Ca- 
pello! Look at those prisoners. There is my Lord 
Ranieri, who was the Prince's host and announced 
himself his friend — Ranieri of all men to have done 
so foul a thing! And those other two, both of them 
professed friends of Sinibaldi's, too." 

Capello looked as he was bidden, an incipient be- 
wilderment thrusting aside his sudden anger. 

"And consider me yet those other two," the Duke 
persisted, his voice swelling with passion. "Both of 
them in the Prince's own livery — his own familiars, 
his own servants whom no doubt he trusted. Belike 
their treachery has been bought by these others, 
these patrician assassins. To what black depths of 
villainy can man descend!" 

Capello stared at the Duke, almost beginning to 
believe him sincere, so fervidly had he spoken. But, 
dull fellow though he was, he was not so dull as to be 
hoodwinked now, nor did the Duke intend it. Cesare 
desired him to know the truth, yet to know it unut- 

The Orator saw clear at last. And, seeing clear, he 
no longer dared to speak the words that had been on 
his lips, lest by implication they should convict the 
dead Sinibaldi, and so bring Capello himself under the 
wrath of the Ten of Venice. He saw it crystal clear 
that to proclaim that Sinibaldi had been slain in 
Cesare's place were to proclaim that it was Sinibaldi 
— and so, presumably, the Most Serene itself — that 


had planned the murder, since all those taken were 
Sinibaldi's friends and servants. 

Capello, looking into the Duke's eyes, understood 
at last that the Duke mocked him. He writhed in a 
boiling wrath that he must for his own sake repress. 
But that was not all. He was forced to drain to its 
very dregs the poisonous cup that Cesare had thrust 
upon him. He was forced to play the dupe; to pretend 
that he saw in this affair no more than Cesare in- 
tended that the world at large should see; to pretend 
to agree that Sinibaldi had been basely murdered by 
his friends and servants, and to leave it there. 

Swallowing as best he could his rage, he hung his 

"My lord," he cried so that all might hear him, "I 
appeal to you for justice against these murderers, in 
the name of Venice!" 

Thus, through the lips of her ambassador, Venice 
herself was forced to disown these friends of hers — 
Ranieri and his fellows — and demand their death at 
the hands of the man whom she had hired them to slay. 
The tragic irony of it stabbed the Orator through 
and through, the rage begotten of it almost suffocated 
him, and was ever afterwards with him all his life to 
inform his pen when he wrote aught that concerned 
the House of Borgia. 

And Cesare, appreciating the irony no less, smiled 
terribly into the eyes of the ineffable Capello, as he 
made answer: 

"Trust me to avenge this offence against the Most 
Serene as fully as though it were an offence against 

My Lord Ranieri thereupon shook himself out of 


the stupor that had numbed his wits when he found 
Capello deserting and disowning him. 

"Magnificent!" he cried, straining forward in the 
hands that held him, his face distorted with rage at 
Capello and Venice, whose abandoned cat's-paw he 
now conceived himself. "There is more in this that 
you do not know. Hear me! Hear me first!" 

Cesare advanced his horse a pace or two, so that he 
was directly over the Lx)rd Ranieri. Leaning slightly 
from his saddle, he looked into the patrician's eyes 
much as he had looked into Capello's. 

"TTiere is no need to hear you," he said. "You 
can tell me nothing that I do not know. Go get 
you shriven. I will send the hangman for you at 

He wheeled about, summoned his cavaliers and 
ladies, his grooms and his guards, and so rode ahead 
of that procession over the drawbridge into the great 
Citadel of Sigismondo. 

The first citizens about the streets of Rimini upon 
the morrow beheld in the pale wintry light of that 
November 2 — appropriately the Day of the Dead — 
five bodies dangling limply from the balcony of the 
house whence the bolts had been shot — the justice of 
the Duke of Valentinois upon the murderers of Prince 

Cesare Borgia himself paused to survey those 
bodies a little later, when he passed by with his armed 
multitudes, quitting Rimini in all the panoply of war 
to march against the Manfredi of Faenza. The sub- 
tlety of his vengeance pleased him. It was lightened by 
a vein of grim humour that he savoured with relish, 
thinking of the consternation and discomfiture of the 


Ten when they should come to hear of it, as hear of it 
they would in detail from their Orator. 

But the cream of the jest was yet to come. It fol- 
lowed a week later at Forli, where the Duke had 
paused to assemble his condotte for the investment of 

Thither came Capello, seeking audience on behalf 
of the Council of Ten. He was the bearer of a letter 
in which the Most Serene Republic expressed to the 
Duke's magnificence her thanks for the summary jus- 
tice he had measured out to the murderers of their 
beloved Prince Sinibaldi. 

That pleased Valentinois, and it pleased him no less 
to reflect that he had faithfully kept the letter of his 
promise to Sinibaldi's lady, and that neither he nor 
any man of his had so much as laid a finger upon Sini- 
baldi to avenge the latter's plotting against himself. 
There was humour in that, too. 


^#rt . - 




^ 0) 


•H X! 


University of Toronto 








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